PARIS — Trying to beat Rafael Nadal at the French Open is, without a doubt, the toughest task in tennis. Indeed, must be among the greatest challenges in all of sports.
The pressure he applies, from set to set, game to game, point to point, shot to shot. That bullwhip of a high-bouncing, topspin lefty forehand. Those quick-reflex returns that help him break an opponent's serve — and his will.
Doing what he does so well on the red clay of Roland Garros, a surface and site he dominates so completely, the No. 1-seeded Nadal wore down No. 2 Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 Sunday to win his ninth French Open championship and fifth in a row, both records.
"For me," Nadal said, "playing here in Roland Garros is just unforgettable, forever."
It is also his 14th Grand Slam title overall, tying the 28-year-old Spaniard with Pete Sampras for the second most by a man, behind only Roger Federer's 17.
That includes Nadal's two trophies apiece at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, along with one from the Australian Open, proving he can beat the best on grass and hard courts, too. But it's on the clay of Paris where Nadal reigns supreme: He has won 66 of his 67 career matches at the French Open.
And since his only defeat, against Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, Nadal has won 35 consecutive matches at Roland Garros.
No other man has won more than seven titles at any of the four majors in tennis.
"It's not impossible, but it's very, very difficult to stay with Rafa in this court, throughout the whole match, on the highest level of performance," said Djokovic, who was broken in the final game of each set, including with an anticlimactic double-fault on match point after fans shouted during the Serb's service motion. "It's normal that you have ups and downs."
Nadal ensured that he, not Djokovic, will be ranked No. 1 on Monday. And in the process, Nadal once again prevented six-time major champion Djokovic from completing a career Grand Slam.
"Sorry for him today. I think he deserves to win this tournament," Nadal said. "I am sure he will do it in the future."