- The Washington Times - Monday, June 9, 2008

PARIS (AP) | Early in the second set of the French Open final, not quite halfway into what would wind up as Roger Federer’s worst loss in 173 career Grand Slam matches, he watched intently as Rafael Nadal pushed a forehand wide to end a lengthy exchange.

Federer saw the ball land out, punched the air and yelled. Neither the exact words - English? French? Swiss German? - nor the precise sentiment - delight? relief? - could be discerned. That he would be so moved was noteworthy in itself.

A man who has won 12 major championships, who has been ranked No. 1 a record 227 straight weeks, who has placed himself squarely in any discussion about the greatest players in tennis history, found significance in the winning of one measly point.

Why?

Because Nadal so thoroughly, so untheatrically, outplayed Federer in every possible facet Sunday, beating him 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 to win a fourth consecutive title at Roland Garros.

During the trophy ceremony following the most lopsided men’s final at the French Open since 1977 and at any Grand Slam since 1984, Nadal felt compelled to say: “Roger, I’m sorry.”

“He dominated from the first point until the end,” said Federer, who hadn’t lost a 6-0 set since 1999 and hadn’t won fewer than five games in a match since 2002. “It’s the strongest Rafa that I’ve ever seen. He was more dominant than the previous years.”

Federer, much to his chagrin, is in perfect position to make that comparison. For the fourth year running, he came to Paris needing a French Open championship to complete a career Grand Slam, something only five men have accomplished.

In 2005, Federer reached the semifinals, then lost to Nadal.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008, Federer went a step further, reaching the final, then came up short against his nemesis every time.

Think of it this way: Over the past four French Opens, Federer is 0-4 against Nadal, 23-0 against anyone else. Or this way: Federer is a combined 12-0 in finals at Wimbledon (beating Nadal the last two years), the U.S. Open and the Australian Open and 0-3 in finals at the French Open.

“He no longer plays short balls the way he did in the past. You can no longer attack him on his forehand the way I could in the past,” said Federer, now 6-11 overall against Nadal, 1-9 on clay. “He is getting much more aggressive, and it’s becoming much more difficult.”

That said, Federer insisted afterward he can win the clay-court major championship.

“I still go out of this tournament with a positive mind-set,” he said.

That might be. But had Federer figured out a way to win, it would have been considered an upset. Sound silly? The top-ranked player wins a match, and it’s an upset?

Well, yes. Do not forget how invincible Nadal is on clay and at this tournament. He’s the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open without dropping a set, the first since Borg from 1978 to 1981 to win the tournament four straight years.

Sunday’s victory also makes Nadal 28-0 for his career at the French Open, 115-2 on clay since April 2005 and 22-1 in clay-court finals.

“I am humble, but the numbers are the numbers,” Nadal said.

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