Nadal beats Soderling for 5th French title 

Accustomed to being on the move, Rafael Nadal fidgeted in his chair during a changeover one game from his fifth French Open title.

He jiggled his legs, took two bites of a banana, toweled off his arms and face, then rose and finished the job. Soon he was back in the chair sobbing into the towel, overcome with the emotion that accompanied his accomplishment.

The relentless Spaniard reclaimed his crown Sunday as the King of Clay, avenging his lone Roland Garros defeat by beating Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

"It's the most emotional day in my career," Nadal told the crowd in French during the trophy ceremony.

His bad memories of 2009 included not only an upset loss to Soderling at Roland Garros, but the separation of his parents and knee tendinitis that contributed to a prolonged slump.

"It was a difficult year for me last year," he said. "It was difficult to accept the injuries and everything."

The victory ended his longest Grand Slam drought since winning his first major title at Roland Garros in 2005.

Seeded No. 2, Nadal won with dogged defense, chasing down shots all over the court. He swept seven consecutive games midway through the match and held every serve, saving all eight break points he faced.

Nadal improved to 38-1 at Roland Garros, with the only loss to Soderling in the fourth round a year ago.

"I played my best match against you," Nadal told the big-swinging Swede during the trophy ceremony. "If not, it's going to be impossible to beat you."

Nadal became the second man to win the French Open at least five times, and next year he'll have a chance to match Bjorn Borg's record of six titles.

"It's really impressive," Soderling told Nadal. "If you continue like this, you will sure have the chance to win many more."

With the victory, Nadal will also reclaim the No. 1 ranking Monday, supplanting Roger Federer.

Soderling, who has yet to win a major title, finished as the runner-up for the second year in a row. In 2009 he lost in the final to Federer.

"I love this tournament," he said. "I will come back next year, and I hope I'll be third time lucky then."

When Soderling's final shot landed in the net, Nadal slid onto his back, threw up his fists and rose, shaking from his hair the clay he loves. When he sat down, he began to cry.

"It was a really emotional moment for me," he said. "After you win this big title, you lose your tension."

The weather was mild and mostly cloudy — a nice day to go running, and Nadal did plenty of it. Playing farther behind the baseline than in their match last year, he skidded across the clay and lunged to dig shots out of the corners, repeatedly extending points until Soderling finally misfired.

Soderling tried to win points quickly and sometimes did, but most of the long rallies went Nadal's way. Before the first set ended, the Swede was panting between points.

To compound Soderling's woes, he had an off day with his serve, his biggest weapon. He totaled only seven aces, the same number Nadal. For the other six rounds, Soderling had 75 aces, Nadal 12.

"I didn't play as good this year as I did against him last year," Soderling said. "I didn't serve as well. I wasn't hitting the ball as clean. It was tough today. I didn't really get into the match."

Nadal's march to his seventh Grand Slam title was deliberate only between points. Advised by the chair umpire he was taking too much time with his methodical ritual before serving, Nadal responded, "Thank you," and slightly picked up the pace.

Nadal's persistence paid off big early in the second set. Facing a break point, he retrieved shots from both corners and punched back a Soderling slam, then charged forward and hit a deft drop volley for a winner. The stadium shook with a roar, and Nadal threw an uppercut accompanied by a leg kick.

"That's why he's so good — because he's moving so well and gets everything back," Soderling said. "He's a great defensive player, but also has a great offensive game, as well. He can really change defense to offense really quick."

Another eye-popping sequence came three games later. Nadal slid into the corner beyond the doubles service line to hit a forehand winner that left Soderling shaking his head. On the next point, Nadal raced to the other side and yanked a lunging backhand crosscourt for another winner.

Those points helped Nadal break at love for a 3-2 lead, during the run that allowed him to take firm control. He managed three consecutive service breaks, and by the time Soderling finally held to stop the skid, he trailed 2-1 in the final set.

With Nadal covering so much ground, Soderling sometimes rushed shots or aimed too close to the line. He finished with 45 unforced errors to 16 for Nadal.

Even the points Nadal lost took a toll on his opponent, who was coming off a grueling five-set win over Tomas Berdych in the semifinals. The Swede, who was seeded fifth and upset Federer in the quarterfinals, again came up short in his 26th Grand Slam tournament.

The first service break came in the fifth game when Nadal cracked a thunderous backhand for a winner, and he served out the set. That essentially decided the match: He's now 95-1 at Grand Slam tournaments when he wins the opening set.

Nadal improved to 22-0 this year on clay and now switches to grass, where he'll seek a second Wimbledon title after missing last year's tournament because of his knee trouble.

For the second time in three years, Nadal won all 21 sets en route to the Roland Garros championship. Only two other men in the Open era have won the title without losing a set, Borg and Ilie Nastase.

"I was very nervous during all the tournament," Nadal said. "Today I was ready to play with calm. It was a very special day."

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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