The 2010 French Open title, Rafael Nadal’s fifth, had the feeling of a king reclaiming his throne. In this case though, the conqueror was just 24 years old. For such had been the Spaniard’s grip on the coveted La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy ever since he first laid his hands on it as a 19-year-old. Such had been his authority that the daunting task of playing tennis on the red dirt of the Philippe-Chatrier Court at Roland Garros in Paris almost seemed like a child’s play.
When Nadal beat the then World No. 7 Robin Soderling 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 on June 6, 2010, the Mallorcan extended his win-loss record at the clay Major to 38-1. That one defeat, though, had come against the same six-foot-four-inch-tall Swede a year ago in what is still regarded as one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport.
Soderling had become the first man to beat Nadal at Roland Garros when he upset the four-time defending champion 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) in their three-and-a-half hour long fourth round clash in 2009. Soderling reached the final and met Roger Federer, who wouldn’t be denied. Federer finally won the French Open.
Nadal later revealed in a statement that he had been experiencing pain in his knees for months. “I have been playing with pain in my knees for some months now and I simply can’t go on like this,” he had said, adding, “The pain was limiting certain movements in my body, which affected me mentally as well.”
Spanish Tennis Federation physician Dr. Angel Ruiz-Cotorro had diagnosed tendinitis in both knees, which kept Nadal away from the sport for two months.
Thus, when he clinched the French Open trophy for the fifth time, it probably meant much more to him than the first four.
Nadal’s 2010 clay court season prior to French Open
FILE PHOTO: Spain’s Rafael Nadal leaves the court after his fourth round loss against Sweden’s Robin Soderling at the 2009 French Open. – GETTY IMAGES
Before beginning his clay court season in Monte Carlo, Nadal’s hard court season featured one runner-up finish, two semifinal losses and retirement from the Australian Open following a right knee injury when he, the defending champion, was down two sets to love against British Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
Come Monte Carlo, Nadal was back in his element as he obliterated the field dropping just 14 games en route to his sixth consecutive title in Monaco. Winner of the last five editions, he did not play in Barcelona where Soderling lost to Nadal’s compatriot Fernando Verdasco in the final.
In Rome, only Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis could take a set off him as he romped to a fifth Italian Open title. He followed it up by winning his first ever Madrid Masters trophy after beating World No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland in a rematch of the 2009 final.
2010 French Open
FILE PHOTO: Runner-up Robin Soderling of Sweden (left) and champion Rafael Nadal of Spain (right) after the men’s singles final at the 2010 French Open. – GETTY IMAGES
With capri pants replaced by shorts and T-shirts with sleeves on them, second-seeded Nadal began his campaign at Roland Garros without the tag of reigning champion for the first time in five years. The Spaniard went past French teenager Gianni Mina, his first-round opponent, with ease. The second round wasn’t any different as he sent Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos (present day World No. 5 in doubles) packing in less than two hours.
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In the third round, Nadal beat a familiar foe in two-time Major winner Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in their fourth French Open meeting. His fourth-round 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 victory over 24th seed Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil was his 200th on clay.
Nadal’s quarterfinal was against compatriot Nicolas Almagro and unlike the hammering of 2008, 21st-seeded Almagro showed dogged resistance before losing 6-7 (2), 6-7 (3), 4-6. On the same day, Soderling avenged his 2009 summit clash defeat with a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 win over Federer.
At the final four stage, Nadal faced Austrian Jurgen Melzer. Melzer had stunned World No. 3 Novak Djokovic of Serbia in an epic four hours 15 minutes quarterfinal winning it after losing the first two sets.
However, 29-year-old Melzer could not repeat the same as he lost the semifinal against Nadal in straight sets in almost half the time. Soderling had to battle past Czech Tomas Berdych in five set to reach his second French Open final in a row.
A Nadal vs Soderling final. There could not have been a better end to this storyline.
A year after Soderling put the sole loss in Nadal’s incredible win-loss record in Paris, the Spaniard got retribution as he achieved a straight-sets win in the final that lasted two hours 18 minutes.
“The only player ever to have beaten Nadal at Roland Garros could not do it when it mattered. Nadal did not just beat him, he reduced him to a hitting partner. It was at once a cruel sight and an awesome one. Resignation painted Soderling’s doleful features, those Donald Pleasance eyes more melancholy than ever,” is how Kevin Mitchell described the final in The Guardian.
Nadal had won his second French Open title without dropping a set. The triumph also took him to the top of the ATP Rankings.
He did his usual celebration – dropping the racquet and falling on his back – after the match point but when he sat in his chair, he buried his head in a towel and wept.
In 2009, he suffered physically, while also dealing with his parents separating.
Emphasising how important this win was, Nadal said, “One of the most important victories in my career, I think. It was a difficult year for me last year. It was difficult to accept the injuries and everything.
“I was there crying. It was a real emotional moment for me. The moment, after a lot of nerves, a lot of pressure. A difficult year … after you win the title, you lose your tension.”
FILE PHOTO: Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the championship point during the men’s singles final at 2010 French Open. – GETTY IMAGES
Three-time champion Mats Wilander believed the win against Soderling changed Nadal’s career. “I think that win, that final against Robin Soderling, sort of got his career back on track,” Wilander toldon the second anniversary of Nadal’s 2010 triumph.
He added, “It was the match that made him believe that he’s not done and it transformed his game.”
Nadal became the first man to win Majors on three different surfaces in the same year with Wimbledon and US Open titles and ended the year as World No. 1.
Rafael Nadal’s route to French Open title in 2010
First round: won 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 against Gianni Mina
Second round: won 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 against Horacio Zeballos
Third round: won 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 against Lleyton Hewitt
Fourth round: won 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 against Thomaz Bellucci
Quarterfinal: won 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 against Nicola Almagro
Semifinal: won 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 against Jurgen Melzer
Final: won 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 against Robin Soldering
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