x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Year of pain ends with glory

A tearful Rafael Nadal acknowledged that winning his fifth French Open yesterday had helped to make up for the year of hell with injury and family problems.

A tearful Rafael Nadal acknowledged that winning his fifth French Open yesterday had helped to make up for the year of hell with injury and family problems. The Spaniard had struggled with a knee injury that forced him to pull out of Wimbledon last year and had left him below-par for much of the past 12 months. But that was forgotten yesterday as he regained the Roland Garros title by beating Robin Soderling, the man who had knocked him out in the fourth round last year, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal, who had broken down and cried on court after sealing his victory, said in his post-match press conference: "It was a very difficult match. Last year it was a difficult final but this time I could play longer, move him out wide and my movement was much better. "It was a difficult year in 2009 because of my knee problems and my parents divorced. This year is very different." "I was a little bit down, but now I want to enjoy this. It's a very emotional day."

Nadal broke twice in the opening set, then survived four break points in the fourth game of the second game to take that, before he cruised the third to ensure he went through the tournament without losing a set - the second time he has achieved that feat. Soderling, a beaten finalist at Roland Garros for the second successive year, was left to reflect on the break points he squandered in the first and second sets that could have put a different complextion on proceedings had he taken any of them.

"Today wasn't my best match, but he played so well," he said. "Rafa always plays kind of the same. He has one game, but he does it so well. "In the beginning I was unlucky and had a few break chances and didn't take them, but I don't think it would have changed anything. He definitely has the chance to stay number one for a long time if he continues to play like this." * Agencies Rafael Nadal became the second man to win the French Open at least five times yesterday and next year has the chance to match Bjorn Borg's record of six titles.

The straight-sets victory over Robin Soderling ended Nadal's longest grand slam drought since winning his first major title at Roland Garros in 2005. His last Grand Slam title before Sunday's victory was at the 2009 Australian Open. "It's really impressive," Soderling told Nadal. "If you continue like this, you will sure have the chance to win many more." Nadal will also reclaim the No. 1 ranking today, replacing Roger Federer.

"I played my best match against you," an emotional Nadal told Soderling during the trophy ceremony. "If not, it's going to be impossible to beat you." Nadal won seven consecutive games midway through the match and held every serve, saving all eight break points he faced. Soderling finished as the runner-up for the second year in a row. In 2009 he lost in the final to Roger Federer. "I love this tournament," Soderling 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. "I faced in the final an extremely tough opponent," Nadal said. "We played at a high level. Now I'm very happy." "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 the loss to Soderling, but the separation of his parents and knee tendinitis that contributed to a slump.

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