Rafael Nadal now has 14 Grand Slam titles -- tied for second with Pete Sampras on the all-time list. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
PARIS -- Rafael Nadal came back from a set down to defeat Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 and capture his record ninth French Open title.
With the victory, Nadal, who will retain the No. 1 ATP ranking, snapped a four-match losing streak to Djokovic and maintained his dominance over his No. 2 rival at the Grand Slam, having now won nine of their twelve meetings at the majors. Nadal's win moved him into second place with Pete Sampras for most major titles amongst the men with 14 -- just three titles behind Roger Federer's mark of 17. He also extended the record he set last year to become the first man to win nine titles at any Slam.
It was an emotional match for both men, as the two held back tears during the trophy celebration. Djokovic was playing in his second French Open final and was trying to complete his career Grand Slam. He started out well to take the first set and was the better player for a set and a half. However, he appeared to struggle physically under the Parisian sun, and a poor service game at 5-6 in the second set allowed Nadal to break and level the match.
"It was a great start, [but Nadal] came back in the second. Could have gone to the tiebreak and was quite even," Djokovic said. "I lost that service game, and then the momentums went his side. I started playing quite bad, you know, and didn't move as well. Struggled a little bit physically throughout that third set."
Neither man was able to play their best tennis for the next two sets, but Nadal remained steady. With the pressure of match point for Nadal on his shoulders, Djokovic double-faulted to hand over the trophy.
"These kind of big matches obviously take the best out of players, and of course it's a huge challenge," Djokovic said. "I tried to do my best. My best wasn't as the best against him in Rome a couple weeks ago. But, you know, it's how it is. Congratulations to him. He was a better player in the crucial moments. Of course it's disappointing for me, but life goes on. It's not the first time or last time that I lost a match."
Game-by-game analysis below.
12:50 p.m. ET | Rafael Nadal defeats Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 to win his ninth French Open title.
What a disappointing end for Djokovic, who falls behind on his service game and double-faults on Championship Point. Nadal falls to his knees in celebration.
Djokovic is sitting in his chair in disbelief, shaking his head and staring off into space. As he's presented with his runner-up trophy the crowd gives him a big cheer and Djokovic is smiling but fighting back tears.
Here's Nadal's first reaction after winning the title:
12:40 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 5-4*. Big hold for Nadal in a deuce game to come within a game of the title. He hasn't played great today but he's been good enough. The backhand has really let him down in this set and Djokovic is trying to find it.
The sun is out in full force at Roland Garros for the men's final. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
12:31 p.m. ET | Nadal breaks and Djokovic breaks back, trails 4-3*.
Could that be the match? Nadal secures the break thanks to a string of unforced errors from the Djokovic racket. Djokovic has done well to hang in the rallies but when he gets the shot he wants he's missing.
But Nadal throws in a horrible service game and Djokovic breaks back. Is Nadal feeling some back pain? Over the last 20 minutes he's been bending over at the waist with his elbow on his knees as he towels off. He hits the worst shot I've ever seen from him, missing an overhead from the baseline softly into the net. That miss gave up two break points and Djokovic converts on the second.
12:14 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 3-2*.
Nadal still hitting enough errors to keep Djokovic in the match but Djokovic is just not hitting the ball well. The two trade holds. Very flat match, this. Not one for the memory books quite yet.
12:05 p.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 2-1*.
Both men hold to start the fourth set. And this happened in the first game:
So yeah. Djokovic isn't feeling that great.
Nadal follows up with a hold. Shocking return game from Djokovic there as he sends in three straight return errors. Poor.
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning the set. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)
11:50 a.m. ET | Rafael Nadal wins the third set and leads 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Nadal finishes up the set with a break. Both men head to the bathroom for a break. Does Djokovic have an extra gear to mount a comeback? The first few games of the fourth set are key.
11:45 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 5-2*.
Djokovic holds and once again Nadal gives him a chance to break back. Djokovic earns two break points but can't convert in either of them. It's first strike tennis for both men now but after over 10 minutes, Nadal holds when Djokovic puts a midcourt backhand into the net. He stands and stares at his box for a good 10 seconds in pure disbelief and frustration.
The white cap isn't enough to protect Djokovic from the heat. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
11:30 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 4-1*.
Djokovic gets on the board with a hold and actually earns a break point on Nadal's serve. Again, just as a player seems to be taking control he lets off the gas pedal. Djokovic can't convert on break point though, and Nadal does hold.
Djokovic is clearly feeling the heat and the fatigue and he's not doing a very good job disguising it. On the last change of ends he collapses awkwardly onto his bench. Not sure if that was just dramatics or real.
11:17 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks and holds, leads 3-0*.
Nadal falls to 30-all but holds off Djokovic to hold.
But Djokovic seems to be flagging under the heat. He's spent the changeovers under an ice towel and he's hurting. He falls to 30-30 on his serve and a long 22 shot rally goes Nadal's way. A tired Djokovic tries to serve and volley on break point and puts a lazy volley into the net.
Nadal then consolidates.
Eight French Open finals, eight French Open titles for Nadal. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
11:02 a.m. ET | Rafael Nadal takes the second set 7-5.
There's the break! A bad service game from Djokovic and Nadal breaks. Was Djokovic put off by a screaming baby? At 15-15 a baby starts crying and Djokovic double-faults. He then loses three straight points to drop the set.
10:55 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 6-5*.
Good clean hold from Djokovic to settle things down. Nadal responds with a love hold. Djokovic will serve to force a tiebreak.
10:45 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 5-4*.
Nadal lets Djokovic off the hook as he earns break point but can't convert. This has been a sub-par 20 minutes of tennis from both men and without so many long rallies you just feel like neither man has been able to get enough hits on the ball to get into a rhythm.
Boris Becker acknowledges Novak Djokovic's first-set victory. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
10:38 a.m. ET | Nadal breaks and Djokovic breaks back, trails 4-3*.
Nadal breaks! The forehand is the weapon and it's finally firing. He gets a bad bit of luck in his first break point of the game, as he fires forehand after forehand that clip the lines but then barely misses on the baseline. The ball was called in but Djokovic and Pascal Maria take a look and it's out. But Nadal earns a second break point and this time there's no mistake. He converts for a 4-2 lead.
But he can't consolidate! A really poor service game from Nadal right as he seemed on the ascendancy. He throws in a weak double-fault to give up two break points at 15-440. Djokovic converts on the second one and we're back on serve.
10:22 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 3-2*.
Another exchange of holds. It still feels like this match is being played on Djokovic's terms. Nadal needs to get that forehand going and get himself into the court and take control of this match. He just doesn't seem to be able to do much right now to bother Novak. But he does play his best service game of the match to hold to 3-2.
10:15 a.m. ET | Nadal holds, leads 2-1*.
Both men open with a trade of holds. Curious to see how Djokovic responds with a set in hand. Will he relax and actually drop his level? Or will he be able to stay focused. He's the better player right now.
Important swing point on the Nadal serve at 30-all and the two play one of the better rallies of the match and it's Nadal who wins it with a backhand down the line winner. Not much Djokovic could do there. He did well to open up the point with a backhand cross court but Nadal got it back and worked his way back into the point before lining up the winner. Huge hold for Nadal. He's hit his forehand better so far in this set.
Novak Djokovic has lost just once when he wins the first set at Roland Garros. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
10 a.m. ET | Novak Djokovic wins the first set 6-3.
Djokovic breaks! He earns two break points at 15-40 but Nadal does well to save those two to get to deuce. But on Djokovic's third break point the Serb chips a forehand return back and Nadal sends an inside out forehand wide.
Djokovic steps up to serve out the set and it's a nervy one. He sprays errors and falls behind 15-40 but then Nadal misses two forehands badly and Djokovic is able to hold after getting it back to deuce.
One set lead for the Serb.
9:45 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 4-3*.
Nadal holds at 30. Djokovic falls behind at 15-30 and does well to hold in the first deuce game of the match. I'm really liking what I'm seeing from him. The swing points -- barring that one missed backhand for break point -- have been going his way. And he hasn't faltered under pressure. When Nadal's been in a good position Djokovic has stood tall.
9:34 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 3-2*.
First swing point goes to Nadal at 30-all on his serve. Djokovic had a backhand cross court open and lined it up but mishits it into the middle of the net. He's frustrated but can't get too amped this early. Nadal holds.
Djokovic responds well. He holds at 15 and the quality is improving. He's doing a good job of attacking the Nadal forehand and following it up into the open court.
9:25 a.m. ET | Djokovic holds, leads 2-1*.
Nice hold from Djokovic at 15, who's already attacking the Nadal forehand. Nadal responds with a love hold.
First good rally of the match goes Djokovic's way, with 21 shot back and forth that ends with a Nadal forehand into the middle of the net. It's still early, but Djokovic is the aggressor.
Rafael Nadal, always letting his opponent cross over first. (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
9:17 a.m. ET | Warm up
Nadal is bouncing around in the tunnel as Djokovic walks out on court with a smile. Nadal with the "8" on his Nikes, signifying the number of French Open titles he's already won. Though it rained overnight it's a hot and steamy day in Paris. It should reach the low 80s during the match and obviously it's much hotter on court.
Pascal Maria is the chair umpire for this final. Both men are kitted out in similar baby blue/turquoise tops, with Djokovic in crisp white shorts and Nadal in his patterned grey shorts.
Packed stands at the start for this one. As I wrote in my preview I'm flipping my pick from the beginning of the tournament, where I picked Djokovic, and going for Nadal in four sets today.
Djokovic won the toss and will serve first.
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No. 1 Rafael Nadal will take on No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the final of the French Open on Sunday. The match starts at 9 a.m. ET and will be televised by NBC. The winner of the match will hold the No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings.
This match marks the 42nd time that the two have played each other, and Nadal leads their career head-to-head 22-19. They last met in a Grand Slam final at the 2013 U.S. Open, where Nadal won his 13th Slam title. But since then, Djokovic has dominated the rivalry, winning their last four meetings and most recently beating Nadal in the finals of the Italian Open.
In the semifinals, Nadal brushed past a fatigued Andy Murray, who was struggling after playing three tough matches, including two five-setters, leading into the semifinals. The Spaniard will be chasing his ninth French Open title and his 14th Grand Slam title -- if he wins, he'll be tied for second with Pete Sampras on the list of most Grand Slam titles in the Open Era. Nadal also needs to win in order to keep his No. 1 ranking.
WERTHEIM: As expected, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic the last two standing
On the other side of the draw, Novak Djokovic defeated Ernests Gulbis in four sets to reach the final. Rumors have swirled saying that Djokovic wasn't feeling well, and that it may have impacted his game in the semifinal. Djokovic is not only gunning for the No. 1 ranking in this match, but he's also eyeing his career Grand Slam, as the French Open remains the only major that the Serb hasn't won.
Nadal and Djokovic played last year in the semifinals at Roland Garros, where Nadal won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 in a tightly contested match.
NGUYEN: Is it finally Novak Djokovic's time to win the French Open?