Rafael Nadal held off an inspired fightback from Roger Federer to win a record-levelling sixth title at the French Open Sunday as he beat the Swiss 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-1 in a final, interrupted briefly by rain.
Top seed Nadal moved alongside Bjorn Borg, who won his six at Roland Garros between 1974 and 1981.
Federer has not beaten Nadal in five meetings at the event, with the Spaniard winning finals from 2006-2008 and lifting a 2005 semi-final.
Nadal’s victory saved his world number one ranking and keeps Novak Djokovic from seizing the top honour for a first time. Federer remains third.
Nadal stands 45-1 at the event, with his only loss coming in 2009 against Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round, the year Federer won the trophy.
“This is more than a tennis tournament to me,” said an emotional Nadal, who fell to his knees on the clay as Federer sent a forehand long to end the exciting confrontation after three hours, 40 minutes.
“It’s much more special than that. I’m filled with emotion, I’m very satisfied, I’m very fortunate.” Nadal was presented his trophy by Jim Courier, who won the title in Paris 20 years ago, over Andre Agassi.
Federer, who has lost four Paris finals to his rival, admitted disappointment but was pleased with his own showing over the fortnight.
“Rafa has proved again that he’s the best on clay,” said the Swiss native. “I’m sorry to lose but I played a good match.
“It’s disappointing to lose another one, but I’m proud of my two weeks here and how I played.” Federer went to the attack from the start, with his 53 winners in symmetry with 56 unforced errors. He fired 11 aces to four for Nadal and broke on five of his 15 chances. Nadal converted seven of 15.
Federer got off a flyer with a 5-2 lead in the opening set, but missed his chance to grab an early command as Nadal saved a set point in the eighth game in a clawback, which would eventually land him the set after 62 minutes, as he broke Federer’s last two times at serve.
Nadal consolidated despite brilliant strategy from Federer, who moved him well around the court, firing deep into the corners. But the Spaniard’s incredible retrieving powers saved him.
The Spaniard eventually earned a two-sets-to-love lead in a set which began with a break of the Swiss-third seed, included a Federer recovery, but ended in a tiebreaker with which Nadal ran away.
The second set was interrupted for 12 minutes after Federer saved a set point and resumed as he saved another before Nadal won in the decider.
The world number three Swiss again fought back in the third, winning his first set of the afternoon to end a streak of 19 straight for Nadal over the course of the fortnight.
Federer trailed 4-2, but steadily gained ground and broke Nadal for a 6-5 lead at the three-hour mark. But the fourth set was a blowout as Nadal swept it in 32 minutes with two breaks and a victory on first match point.