Federer fails to take Grand Slam victory

By HOWARD FENDRICH

The Associated Press

PARIS – Unflappable and unbeatable against anyone else, Roger Federer looked helpless at times Sunday, his bid for a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title disappearing in the clouds of clay kicked up by Rafael Nadal.

For three hours and with the temperature at 90, Nadal scampered and skidded his way to reach seemingly unreachable balls. Going long stretches without a mistake, No. 2-ranked Nadal beat No. 1 Federer 1-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to win his second straight French Open title.

Federer’s 27-match winning streak at majors ended. Nadal’s 60-match winning streak on red clay lives.

So consider this: Nadal is now 6-1 against Federer over their careers. And this: Federer is 0-4 against the Spaniard in 2006, 44-0 against everyone else.

Nadal is the first player to beat Federer in a Grand Slam final. The Swiss entered Sunday 7-0 in that category, the best such start to a career since the 1880s.

“I can’t say I’m better than him,” Nadal said. “Since I was born, I’ve never seen a more complete player. He’s the best. Maybe he was nervous, too. Roger was playing today for being on the top of history. This pressure is a lot, no?”

Federer was trying to join Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962, 1969) as the only men to win Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open championships all in a row. He also had a chance to become the sixth man with a career Grand Slam.

But it was Nadal who deposited a forehand volley to end the match, then slid onto his back on the clay and spread his arms and legs, as if to make a snow angel.

“I tried. I can’t do more than try,” Federer said. “But having this real unique opportunity that we haven’t seen in such a long time in tennis – obviously, it’s a pity.”

In the first French Open final pitting men seeded 1-2 since 1984, an intriguing contrast in styles and personalities created a competing fugue of “Ro-ger! Ro-ger!” and “Ra-fa! Ra-fa!” chants at changeovers.

Nadal’s biceps-baring sleeveless shirt and below-the-knee white shorts. Federer’s more traditional collared shirt and shorts.

Nadal’s “Ugh-ahhh!” grunt on nearly every shot, sounding angry at the ball. Federer’s barely perceptible exhale.

Nadal’s baseline excellence. Federer’s volleying.

Nadal’s left-handed topspin. Federer’s right-handed variety.

It’s that last one that might be most responsible for the one-sided nature of the emerging rivalry, for Nadal’s high-bouncing forehands make things tough on Federer’s backhand, already his weakest shot.

On Sunday, Federer made 24 unforced errors with his backhand. He finished with 51 miscues in all, 23 more than the steadier Nadal.

In the third set, Nadal used a 114 mph kick serve for an ace to erase the last of four break points in the fourth game. Then he broke to a 3-2 lead with the help of two telling points.

In the middle two sets, Nadal made only six unforced errors while keeping points going long enough that Federer made 29.

Nadal, who turned 20 during the tournament, is the youngest man to win a second straight French Open since Bjorn Borg was 19 in 1975.

Federer, meanwhile, is left to ponder what he can do to add the only major missing from his resume. He spoke before the tournament about wanting to avoid the fate of Pete Sampras, who won a record 14 Grand Slam titles but whose best French Open run was to the 1996 semifinals. Sampras’ age at the time? The same as Federer’s now, 24.

“I was ready to put him at the top if he were to win this,” seven-time major champion John McEnroe said during NBC’s broadcast, “but he’s got some work to do.”