PARIS -- There it stood, so tantalizingly close.
As Roger Federer tried in vain to solve Rafael Nadal in the
French Open final, the silver Coupe des Mousquetaires -- the only
Grand Slam trophy missing from the No. 1-ranked player's collection
-- sparkled in the sun behind a baseline, 10 feet overhead.
So successful everywhere else, so superb against everyone else,
Federer once more succumbed to Nadal at Roland Garros, one win
short of a French Open title, one win short of a fourth consecutive
major championship, one win short of a career Grand Slam.
Instead, it was Nadal who made a bit of history Sunday, showing
true resolve on the biggest points to beat Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3,
6-4 and become only the second man since 1914 to win three
consecutive French Open titles.
"Spin it any way you want -- I'm disappointed to have lost. I
couldn't care less how I played the last 10 months or the last 10
years. At the end of the day, I wanted to win that match," said
Federer, who lost to Nadal in four sets in last year's final, too.
"I couldn't do it. It's a shame. But life goes on."
Nadal saved a remarkable 16 of the 17 break points he faced,
going 10-for-10 in the first set and 1-for-1 over the last two
While Federer remains convinced he can win this event -- "And,
eventually, if I get it, the sweeter it's going to taste," he said
-- the real question might be how many French Opens will end as
Sunday's did: with Nadal sprawled on his back, celebrating in the
"I always thought winning Roland Garros three times in a row
would be impossible," said Nadal, the first to do it since Bjorn
Borg in 1978-81. "I am very happy, but I am really sad for Roger.
He is a friend and I know he is a great champion, whether he wins
The 21-year-old Spaniard is undefeated at the clay-court major,
going 21-0 at a place where his relentless running makes it tough
for foes to find space for winners.
He's full of energy, bouncing on the balls of his feet during
the prematch coin toss, sprinting to the baseline for the warmup.
And then he really gets going. No matter the surface, but
especially on clay, Nadal gets to nearly every shot, making
opponents hit four, five, six terrific strokes to win a single
point. It's quite demoralizing, sort of like hitting against a
"He kind of wears you out or wears you down," Federer said.
"He's the type of guy that's going to make you miss. So you can
never really say you played great against him, for some reason."
Federer couldn't just make winners, he had to earn them, and
that often resulted in a miss. Federer finished with 59 unforced
errors -- 32 more than Nadal. While Nadal consistently went at the
backhand side, it was Federer's forehand, his best shot, that erred
"I can't particularly say my backhand or my forehand was bad or
my volley or my serving," Federer said with a sigh. "It was all
OK. It was just a tough opponent."
Put simply, Nadal pushed Federer around on a muggy afternoon
when the temperature touched 81 degrees at the start. The crowd
greeted Federer's entrance with a standing ovation, then serenaded
him with chants of "Roh-zher! Roh-zher!" during changeovers.
"I expected it," Nadal said. "He was fighting for something
absolutely historical, and he is No. 1."
The second-ranked Nadal is No. 1 in their matchups, though. He's
beaten Federer every time they've played at the French Open,
including in the 2005 semifinals.
Indeed, since the start of 2005, Federer is 4-7 against Nadal --
and 199-7 against everyone else. Over the past eight Grand Slam
tournaments, Federer is 1-2 against his nemesis -- and 53-0 against
anyone not named Nadal, with six titles.
"I'm not going to walk on the court thinking he is unbeatable.
Maybe he's unbeatable for the others," the Swiss star said, "but
I also knew if somebody was capable of winning against him in this
tournament, that was me."
Federer certainly got plenty of chances, including five break
points in the match's sixth game. Nadal saved each to make it 3-3,
and Federer made four unforced errors to get broken at love in the
next game -- part of a five-game roll for Nadal.
In the second set, the artful Roger emerged, with some fantastic
shotmaking and net play. He'd sneak up behind a powerful approach
shot and Nadal would flinch first. Federer finally converted a
break point, his 12th of the match, to go ahead 4-3, when Nadal put
a forehand into the net.
That allowed Federer to win the set, the only one dropped by
Nadal all tournament. As they went to the changeover before the
third set, Federer looked over his shoulder, perhaps making eye
contact with his girlfriend in the stands -- or perhaps sneaking a
peek at that nearby trophy.
But Nadal was the one who took charge in the third set. Federer
won the point on 13 of 14 trips to the net over the first two sets,
then went 8-for-20 the rest of the way. Nadal had one passing
winner over the first two sets, seven the rest of the way.
Midway through the third set, Federer stopped in the middle of a
point, telling the chair umpire the ball was no good because it was
too flat. That says something about Federer's marvelous touch --
when he's at his best, the racket's an extension of his hand -- and
about how hard they were hitting.
In some ways, it became a test of wills, and Nadal came out on
top. He broke Federer to 2-0 in the third set and to 2-1 in the
fourth. And that was pretty much it because Nadal was strong down
the stretch, winning 18 of the last 20 points on his serve.
"It's always hard to win a tournament," said Nadal's uncle and
coach, Toni. "But if on top of it all you have to beat an opponent
like Federer, it's more than difficult."
And yet Nadal did it again.
And, again, Federer is left to contemplate what could have been.
He's won four titles at Wimbledon and three apiece at the U.S.
Open and Australian Open, but failed each of the past two years in
Paris to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four
straight majors and the sixth man with at least one championship
from each Grand Slam.
About 1 hours after leaving the court, Federer met up with his
parents for consoling hugs and kisses on the cheek. The silver tray
given to the runner-up was tucked under Mom's arm, like a
"You can't win them all," said Federer's father, Robert.
"But, honestly, what more can we ask for?"