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Champion cast in clay


Rain or shine, clay or mud, Sunday or Monday, Rafael Nadal rules Roland Garros. 'Rafa' won his record seventh French Open title on Monday, returning a day after getting rained out to put the finishing touches on a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic. He denied Djokovic in his own piece of history - the quest for the 'Novak Slam.'


The match ended on Djokovic's double-fault, a fittingly awkward conclusion to a final that had plenty of stops and starts, including a brief delay during the fourth set Monday while - what else? - a rain shower passed over the stadium.


They waited it out and Nadal wound up as he has for seven of the past eight years: down on the ground, celebrating a title at a place that feels like a home away from home for the second-seeded Spaniard. He broke the record he shared with Bjorn Borg, improved to 52-1 at the French Open and beat the man who had defeated him in the last three Grand Slam finals.


"This tournament is, for me, the most special tournament of the world," Nadal said.


Fourth double fault

After serving his fourth double fault of the match, the top-seeded Djokovic dropped his head, slumped his shoulders and walked slowly toward the net - an emotional two-day adventure complete, and not with the result he wanted.


He was trying to become the first man since Rod Laver, 43 years ago, to win four straight major titles. He came up short just as Roger Federer twice did in seeking four in a row - his pursuit also halted by Nadal at Roland Garros in 2006 and 2007.


"It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world," Nadal said. "I lost three Grand Slam finals - Wimbledon, the US Open last year, and the Australian Open this year. I'm very happy, very emotional."


Nadal won his 11th overall Grand Slam title, tying him with Borg and Laver for fourth among the all-time leaders.


Next up on Nadal's list: Chris Evert? Yes. Before Monday, Evert was the only player, man or woman, to win seven titles at Roland Garros, and Nadal would break that record next if he wins No. 8.


"He's definitely the best player in history on this surface and the results are showing that he's one of the best-ever players to play this game," Djokovic said.


A match with so much of tennis history riding on it proved awkward and frustrating for both players.


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