PARIS, (Reuters) – An irrepressible Rafa Nadal did not let a flare-wielding protester or the dogged resistance of David Ferrer throw him off course as he stormed to a record eighth French Open title with a 6-3 6-2 6-3 win today.
Playing through heavy drizzle, Nadal relentlessly swatted away a dripping yellow ball to become the first man to win the same major eight times and extend his record at the spiritual home of claycourt tennis to a jaw-dropping 59-1.
On a day when Nadal was busy ruining Ferrer’s first grand slam final, a bare-chested man wearing a white mask hijacked a global audience’s attention by charging towards the champion with a red flare that left a streak of billowing smoke trailing on Philippe Chatrier Court.
The claycourt king was left shocked and startled in the sixth game of the second set as the protestor ran around waving the flare before he, and another shirtless accomplice, were bundled away by security staff.
It was the second such interruption within the space of a few minutes as a man and a woman were also led away from high up in a different section of the stands after shouting protests and waving a banner declaring ‘Help! France tramples on children’s rights’.
At Roland Garros, though, Nadal revels on trampling on his opponents and his good friend and fellow Spaniard Ferrer became his latest victim.
“I never dreamed about this kind of thing (winning eight titles),” third seed Nadal, who returned to the tour in February after seven months out with a knee injury, said before being handed the Musketeers’ Cup by Olympic 100 metres champion Usain Bolt.
Ferrer had to settle for receiving the loudest round of applause from the 15,000 fans and a runners-up cheque for 750,000 euros ($991,500).
“These two weeks I played very good tennis but I would like to say that he deserves everything, he’s the best,” Ferrer told the crowd.
The ugly incidents in the second set momentarily overshadowed Nadal’s relentless charge towards a 12th grand slam title on a unseasonably cold day in Paris with the temperature stuck at 16 degrees Celsius.
The grey, dank and chilly atmosphere that greeted the players on court was certainly not to Nadal’s liking but he soon warmed to the task of grinding down an opponent whom he had trounced in their last 16 claycourt clashes.
A wild forehand from Ferrer handed Nadal the first break of the match for a 2-1 lead but the fourth seed hit back immediately by employing some astute baseline tactics.
A fizzing backhand winner down the line after he had lured Nadal into the net with a drop shot brought up break point. He then engaged the champion into a lengthy rally which Nadal ended by ramming a backhand into the net to relinquish his serve.
But the man who had “7” stamped on the heel of his shoes to symbolise his 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012 Roland Garros triumphs went a break up again in the seventh game.
Nadal outwitted the 31-year-old Ferrer with a backhand passing shot winner to go 4-3 ahead but was in danger of surrendering the advantage in the next game when a misjudged lob floated long to hand his rival break point.
A blistering forehand winner took care of that problem and Ferrer meekly surrendered his next service game by slicing a backhand into the net to lose a set for the first time at this year’s tournament.
Perhaps inspired by the presence of the fastest man on earth, Bolt, who followed proceedings behind a pair of dark glasses despite not a ray of sun in sight, Nadal hurtled into a 3-1 lead in the second.
Ferrer stepped up his effort to break the Nadal serve in an astonishing fifth game, which lasted 10 minutes and featured four deuces, four break points and an incredible 29-shot rally which Nadal polished off with a whipped backhand winner.
For all Ferrer’s effort, he could not stop Nadal moving 4-1 ahead and as the fourth seed’s “e-he” grunting got louder, Nadal’s winners started flying faster.
But just when Nadal looked like he would soon be rolling in the clay in celebration, protesters ambushed a Roland Garros men’s final for the second time in four years.
In the 2009, Roger Federer’s showdown with Robin Soderling was also interrupted when a man jumped down from the stands and tried to put a hat on the Swiss champion.
Today, though, nothing could stop Nadal from collapsing on to his back in triumph after he put a full stop to the match with yet another screaming forehand winner.