When the last ball of the French Open 2012 was finally struck on Court Philippe Chatrier, Rafael Nadal took a flying leap into the arms of his Uncle Toni, all 6ft 1ins of him. It was the most exuberant reaction Nadal has shown perhaps since winning Wimbledon in 2008, a mark of the effort it has taken this 26-year-old to break yet another one of history's records.
In his 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 win over Novak Djokovic, the fourth Grand Slam final in a row between the world Nos 1 and 2, Nadal marked himself out as undisputedly the greatest male clay court player of the Open era. Seven French Open titles in eight years, against four different opponents, the Spaniard also ended his run of three consecutive Grand Slam final losses to the man who has become his biggest rival.
That he was pushed so hard on his favourite court and favourite surface indicates the measure of Djokovic, who was chasing the first back-to-back sweep of the four majors since Rod Laver in 1969. But, just as Nadal denied Roger Federer the same feat on two occasions, the Spaniard was to do so again, on two sticky, rain-interrupted days in Paris.
"I had already lost three Grand Slam finals against him so it was important to win mentally," Nadal said. "The mental part is also more important on clay and my game naturally adapts very well to this surface... Novak plays fantastic and is having a great season. But you can't be perfect all the time."
Djokovic meanwhile, having played his first French Open final, was reflective. "I could easily have lost the match in fourth round or even more against Tsonga, but I managed to come to the finals for the first time in my career. I should be happy about that, of course. I will be and I am, but in this moment I am disappointed about this loss because I thought I started to play better in the third set and felt like I could take this match to a fifth set, and then, you know, everything could be possible, but, yeah, unfortunately there has been a rain delay yesterday when I started to feel really good on the court. But look, you know, I don't want to find an excuse in that, because the first rain delay maybe helped me a little bit; the second helped him. So that's the way it goes, and the better player won today. So congratulations for that."
Are we due another Nadal-Djokovic showdown at Wimbledon in just under a month's time? It could well be.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
20:03"I already have seven. It's not like I need another one. But it would have been awfully nice to have it. I think that's what the feeling was of the people, and I felt that... I know they love tennis. They love tennis after we're all gone."View all