"We got lucky," Uncle Toni conceded.
By noon Monday, an hour before play resumed, normally bustling Roland Garros was eerily empty. Souvenir stands were shuttered. Green barriers blocked access to a pathway leading to several courts. There were hundreds of unclaimed seats in the stands at the main stadium, and thick, gray clouds loomed overhead when the players stepped out.
Well-rested, they opened with a crescendo: The first point contained eight strokes, the third had 11, the fourth had 16, and the fifth had 21, ending with Djokovic's errant forehand that gave Nadal a chance to break. Djokovic kept right on swinging his racket, pounding himself in the noggin with his strings three times. (On Sunday, he vented frustration by whacking his racket on his green sideline bench so violently a chunk of the furniture flew off.)
On the next point, Nadal's shot slapped the white tape atop the net and trickled over. Djokovic got to the ball but couldn't do much, setting up Nadal for a cross-court backhand passing winner.
That was the break Nadal needed, and this was the Nadal everyone is accustomed to seeing charge around Roland Garros. There's a reason the back of his left shoe was etched with the outline of a bull's horns; the back of his right one was stamped with a black, bold "6," signifying his number of French Open titles entering Monday.
Even a passing shower that the players waited out on the sideline didn't slow Nadal on this afternoon. He's from the island of Mallorca, and loves to spend his rare downtime playing golf or hanging out at the beach or fishing.
Maybe it was fitting, then, that pieces of blue sky peeked out from behind the clouds as Monday's end neared.
With Djokovic trailing 6-5, and serving to try to force a tiebreaker, Nadal smacked a forehand winner to get to match point. Djokovic saved four match points in the quarterfinals, but there would be no such reprieve this time.
Instead, Djokovic double-faulted, an anticlimactic ending to a highly anticipated match filled with awkward stops and starts because of the uncooperative weather.
Nadal dropped to his knees and covered his face, thick strips of white tape covering the knuckles and fingertips of his racket-wielding left hand. He rose, chucked his racket, and clambered into the stands for a group hug with his father and various members of his entourage. Then he leaped into Toni's arms, spilling his uncle's bottle of water.
"When you lose, it's because you don't deserve the title," Nadal said. "So in my mind, this was the final I had to win. That's why I was so emotional."
Nearly two hours later, Nadal and more than a dozen others gathered on the court for a photo session of the sort you might see at a wedding. First, everyone stood together for a picture, Nadal cradling the trophy. Then came various two-person poses: Rafa with Dad; Rafa with Uncle Toni; Rafa with his buddy Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Might seem a tad over-the-top for a guy who's done this so many times.
Then again, you only win your seventh French Open trophy once.
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