Nadal ties Federer with 20th major

Spaniard crushes world No.1 Djokovic in Paris to secure his 13th Roland-Garros trophy

©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Rafael Nadal is the champion at Roland-Garros for an unprecedented 13th time, his victory over world No.1 Novak Djokovic elevating him level with Roger Federer’s all-time mark of 20 major titles.

The Spaniard delivered one of his finest performances against arguably his toughest rival to prevail 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 on Sunday.

It was his 100th match-win on the clay in Paris and his 27th victory from 56 showdowns with the Serb.

History was on the line for both men in their third showdown for the title on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Victory lifted Nadal to tie Federer’s record Grand Slam haul, the feat achieved in two hours and 42 minutes. It was the first time the 34-year-old had drawn level with the Swiss great’s tally.

"A very tough year but a win here means everything to me. It’s not the moment, honestly not for me, I don’t think today being the 20th, equalling Roger on this great number," Nadal said.

"For me today this is just a Roland-Garros victory. Roland-Garros means everything to me. I’ve spent the most important moments, or most of the most important moments in my tennis career [here], no doubt about that... For me just playing here is a true inspiration and the love story I have with this city and with this court is unforgettable."

Djokovic was again bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to win each of the four majors twice. It was his first defeat from his past six major finals, but his fourth in a Roland-Garros title decider.

It marked the first time Nadal had beaten Djokovic in a Grand Slam final since Roland-Garros 2014 and edged his nose in front 5-4 on their head-to-head ledger for major finals.

"What you’re doing on this court is unbelievable, not just this court, throughout your entire career you’ve been a great champion," Djokovic said. "Today you showed why you’re King of the Clay. I’ve experienced it in my own skin.

"It was a very tough match for me today. Obviously, I’m not so pleased with the way I played but I was definitely overplayed by a better player today on the court. It’s been a fantastic couple of weeks. The situation is very difficult for everyone worldwide but we have the possibility to play the sport we love."

With the roof closed due to light rain outside it was Nadal who made the stronger start. The level was exceptional from the off, but all the big points early on went the Spaniard’s way as he out-matched the Serb’s aggression from the back of the court to break three times before serving out the opening set on an ace.

It marked the first time Djokovic had failed to win a game in a set since the Rome final last year against Nadal and the first 6-0 set he had conceded at a major since his quarter-final defeat to Dominic Thiem in Paris three years ago.

Djokovic finally stemmed the bleeding of games after 55 minutes when he fended off break points to hold in the opening game of the second set, but it was not enough to swing the set in his favour as he was broken twice on his way to a two-set deficit.

In a final of margins where mere millimetres had began to take a contrasting mental toll on the two, Djokovic - who remained stoic throughout his five-set semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas - began to look despondent as his error count mounted under the relentless pressure from an opponent whose confidence was only surging.

It was not until an hour and 28 minutes in the Serb registered his second game of the match. He would add only two more before Nadal broke for 3-2, already with a two-set buffer.

Djokovic managed to thread a backhand in behind the Spaniard to break for the first time and rouse a vocal contingent of Serbian supporters at 3-all in the third, but it was his last hurrah.

A double fault surrendered serve at 5-all to hand the No.2 seed the chance to serve for the title and he never blinked. Three championship points arrived and Nadal needed just one as an ace sealed the result.

"What you’re doing in tennis is something very, very special," Nadal said to his vanquished opponent. "Honestly, it's a pleasure in some way sharing this great era of tennis together. On the other hand it has been tough battles for a long time so I just hope to keep facing you on court for the next couple of years.

"We are facing very challenging moments and I think Novak and I in the same way are saying that we are very lucky that we can keep playing our sport... Everybody knows here this court is the most important court in my tennis career. The court that I enjoy more special moments and today was one of these."