PARIS - Rafael Nadal is still better on clay than the most successful Grand Slam champion of all time, beating Roger Federer in their fourth French Open final, 7-5, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 6-1, yesterday at Roland Garros.
Nadal, who equaled Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles and earned his 10th major with the victory, dropped to his knees and covered his face after Federer sent a forehand long on match point.
"To win this final against one of the best players in the world and in history is something which is really fantastic for me," said Nadal, who will keep his world No. 1 ranking. "It's one of my most beautiful dreams."
The top-seeded Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to 45-1, 17-8 against Federer. In Grand Slam finals, Nadal is 6-2 against his main rival.
"As it often happens, he is the best on clay," Federer said. "He proved it once again."
It was the first time in more than 2 years that Nadal and Federer met in a Grand Slam final. They have played in 13 major finals, seven more than any other pair of men in tennis history.
"For today, we played, I think, a good match," Nadal said, then apologized to Federer for beating him. "Sorry for that and well done to his team."
Federer is 14-1 is Grand Slam finals against opponents other than Nadal. But besides the four defeats at Roland Garros, Federer lost to Nadal once at Wimbledon and once at the Australian Open. His two wins over Nadal both came at Wimbledon.
Federer looked like the one to beat early in the match, breaking Nadal's first service game and later watching from his changeover chair as Nadal called for a trainer to look at his left foot. Leading 5-2 and perhaps sensing some weakness, Federer held a set point on Nadal's serve.
But the turning point came on that very point, when Federer tapped a backhand drop shot that landed just outside the line. The 2009 champion argued his case, but the chair umpire, off his perch and jogging across the court to investigate, ruled the ball was out.
"I definitely thought that I got maybe a touch unlucky there and he got a touch lucky," Federer said. "So it was a tough moment. I think that was one of my bigger chances of the match."
Nadal won seven straight games after that point, breaking Federer for the first time in the next game and then holding to 5-5 and breaking yet again when Federer sent a forehand into the net. In the final game, Federer led 15-30, but Nadal won three straight points to take the set.
"I was able to play my best when I needed my best," Nadal said.
* Li Na became the first Chinese player to win a major when she defeated defending champion Francesca Schiavone, 6-4, 7-6 (0), in Saturday's women's final.