PARIS - Scurrying along the baseline as only he can, sliding through the red clay, Rafael Nadal stretched to somehow dig the ball out of a corner and fling it back over the net - once, twice, three times - during a 14-stroke exchange that ended when Robin Soderling sailed a shot long.
The French Open final was all of seven points old and the message was unmistakable: Nadal's knees are fine, which means he is an entirely different player from the one Soderling stunned at Roland Garros in 2009.
His body sound, his mind at ease, Nadal played his unique brand of relentless, perpetual-motion tennis to handily beat the No. 5-seeded Soderling of Sweden 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 yesterday, for his his fifth French Open championship, his seventh Grand Slam title, and a return to the world No. 1 ranking.
"I lost last year because I was not well-prepared, and I had very low morale last year, as well," said Nadal, who will supplant Roger Federer atop the rankings today. "But this time, I'm back. I'm back, and I win."
"He has more or less one game," Soderling said, "but he does it so well."
Nadal is 38-1 over his career at Roland Garros and, 3 days after his 24th birthday, stands just one French Open title shy of Bjorn Borg's record of six. And for the second time in 3 years, Nadal won the tournament without losing a set.
Nadal never allowed his big-swinging foe to dictate points the way Soderling did during his upsets of Nadal in last year's fourth round, and against Federer this year.