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Trey Bien

Rafael Nadal and Justine Henin once again ruled the French Open, winning their third straight titles in grand fashion on Roland Garros's terre battue

Posted: Tuesday June 12, 2007 11:13AM; Updated: Tuesday June 12, 2007 11:24AM
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Nadal, who has never lost an Open match at Roland Garros, schooled Federer
Nadal, who has never lost an Open match at Roland Garros, schooled Federer again.
Bob Martin/SI

Roger Federer moaned, and everyone knew: It would end soon. Grunting and screeching are tennis staples, of course, but not for Federer. Usually he embodies the quaint notion of striving quietly. But he had just made his final desperate run at Rafael Nadal and the 2007 French Open title, muffing the last of 16 break points he'd let slip this day. It was 5:50 p.m. on Sunday, in the second game of the fourth set, and after Federer rolled a backhand wide, his first groan echoed across the clay. On the next point Federer shanked another stray backhand and yelled in despair, and the 15,166 fans jammed into Court Philippe Chatrier knew it was done. Nadal had cracked him open for all to hear. Again.

The 21-year-old Spaniard won the French Open final 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, becoming the first man to win three straight titles at Roland Garros since Bjorn Borg won four in a row in 1978-81. And in beating Federer for the third straight year in Paris, in denying the world No. 1 the only item missing from his Grand Slam résumé, the No. 2 Nadal cemented his role as history's happy roadblock, the one player capable of consistently exposing Federer's few flaws. As Federer's forehand splintered against Nadal's impenetrable defense, his will again frayed and his legs began to go. Usually the picture of graciousness, after the trophy ceremony he turned his back on a TV interview, slung his racket bag over a shoulder and trudged off the court holding the second-place silver plate like a piece of cardboard. "I couldn't care less about the way I've played over the last 10 months," Federer said. "I wanted to win this match, and I didn't succeed."

Federer well knows why. With its endless points and constant sliding, the French Open is tennis's most bruising test. But there's a term the Europeans and Latinos who dominate the dirt use more and more these days, and no matter how good their English is, it always comes out the same. "My mental was good," they'll say, meaning they didn't crack under the strain. When Federer is asked to name Nadal's most impressive quality, he says, "Mental of steel. To have [that] at his age is incredible."

Nadal has yet to lose a match at the French Open, a streak of 21 straight, and the way he's playing, maybe he never will. In Paris he perfected the nifty psychological jujitsu of praising Federer as superior while punishing him on court like some mouthy junior. "[He has an] unbelievable record," Nadal said. "For sure he's better than me -- right now."


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