Roger Federer had beaten Novak Djokovic in the first semi-final. If I was to become the champion I would have to beat the greatest grass court player of all time.
I was nervous. I needed to win that match. I needed to win a Slam. And I really thought I had a chance. I felt so different to how I did before my first Grand Slam final, against Roger in the 2008 US Open. This time I felt like I was in a comfortable, settled place. I knew what I had to do. Mentally, I was prepared to win. I felt that I was ready.
I started well, breaking him in the first game and again at 4-4 to be able to serve for the first serve. I needed this set badly and I wasn’t nervous serving for it. I felt as good as I could possibly have done. 6-4.
In the second set, I had a couple of break points that I vividly recall. On one, I hit a cross-court passing shot which he volleyed behind me. The next, I went full-blooded for a backhand winner down the line. I could have hit it down the middle of the court, and that might have happened in the past, but I decided to go for the winner. I just missed it. Roger took the set 7-5.
We went off for rain a couple of games into the third set and they closed the roof. Roger came out more aggressive from there. His timing is so good: when there is no wind to disturb him, he strikes the ball superbly. I don’t think I played any worse, it was just that he played a little better. He was in his element.
At 3-3, I led 40-0 and he played a really good drop shot which I fell trying to reach. That stunned me a little. I think he could see that in my eyes. He got it back to deuce and piled on the pressure. I had to save five break points, but couldn’t save a sixth. He was ahead from that moment on, taking the set 6-3 and easing over the line 6-4 in the fourth.
I have seen loads of players crying in the locker rooms after games, and heard stories about people breaking down. Normally you can get off the court pretty much straight away so that you can do that in private. Not in major finals, though, and I knew when I was going up to be interviewed on court straight after the defeat to Roger it was going to be really hard.
When I went to speak, the crowd turned the volume up and I sensed they knew what I was feeling. They made so much noise I had to wait for them. Sue Barker started to ask a question, but I knew people hadn’t heard, so I ended up taking the microphone from her and just tried to say what I was feeling.
There was no time to think about what to say. I hadn’t pictured myself losing or worried about what I might say if I did. My mind was in turmoil and the words just came spilling out. In sport, the interviews are usually so choreographed, but this was totally spontaneous.
I was just pleased that in those few moments, people saw my true personality. I appreciate the support I get, I really do. It helps so much. In the past maybe i didn’t have everyone behind me, but that summer was the first time I really felt like the crowd were saying, ‘He is one of us’. They really, really wanted me to win, they understood me and how much it meant.
I apologised to Roger for reacting the way I did, but he said not to worry, it showed how much I cared. He is a great champion. I came away proud of what I had achieved. Although I was upset that I hadn’t won, there was no second-guessing myself thinking, ‘What if I had done that differently?’ I had gone for my shots, but for a set and a half at the end of the match, he just played brilliantly.
In the locker room, Ivan said he was proud of me too, and that I’d be better next time. I believed him, but it didn’t stop me having to endure one of the saddest nights of my life.
Roger Federer pulls out of Roland Garros:
Federer’s withdrawal means that Rafael Nadal will be the number 4 seed and he won’t meet Djokovic until the semifinals.
Nike unveiled its players on court and off court kits for Roland Garros. Rafa, Roger, Serena, Madison Keys and Grigor Dimitrov will be hitting the parisian clay courts wearing different shades of blue, France’s signature color.
Roland Garros visitor’s guide:
A trip down memory lane:
1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver
Portrait of Manuel Santana, first Spaniard to capture a Grand Slam title in 1961
1967: Françoise Durr defeats Lesley Turner
1969: Rod Laver defeats Ken Rosewall
Portrait of 6-time Roland Garros champion Bjorn Borg
Portrait of Adriano Panatta, the only player to beat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros
1978: Virginia Ruzici defeats Mima Jausovec
1978: Bjorn Borg defeats Guillermo Vilas
1982: At the request of Monsieur Wilander
1982: first Grand Slam for Mats Wilander
1983: Yannick Noah defeats Mats Wilander
1984 French Open: Ivan Lendl defeats John McEnroe
1985 French Open: Chris Evert defeats Martina Navratilova
Roland Garros 1985: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
Roland Garros 1988: bold Leconte swept aside by a Mats for all surfaces
Portrait of Natasha Zvereva, 1988 runner-up
Portrait of Arantxa Sanchez, 1989 French Open champion
Portrait of Michael Chang, 1989 French Open champion
1990 French Open: Opposites attract, Gomez defeats Agassi
Roland Garros 1990: Defending champion Sanchez loses in the first round
Roland Garros 1990: Edberg and Becker lose in the first round
1991 French Open 3RD: Michael Chang defeats Jimmy Connors
1991 French Open final: Jim Courier defeats Andre Agassi
1996: An unflinching Edberg causes a grand upset
Roland Garros 1996: Pete Sampras run through the semi-finals
1997: Going ga-ga over Guga
Steffi Graf – Martina Hingis Roland Garros 1999
2000: Mary Pierce finds peace and glory
2004: Coria vs Gaudio: the egotist vs the underdog
2005: Rafael Nadal defeats Mariano Puerta
2006: Nadal defeats Federer, wins second Roland Garros title
A look back at Roland Garros 2011
A look back at Roland Garros 2014
A look back at Roland Garros 2015
Pictures and Recaps:
Fashion and gear:
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Rafael Nadal (50%, 125 Votes)
- Novak Djokovic (29%, 73 Votes)
- Andy Murray (11%, 27 Votes)
- Roger Federer (5%, 12 Votes)
- Kei Nishikori (2%, 5 Votes)
- Stan Wawrinka (1%, 3 Votes)
- Other (1%, 2 Votes)
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 1 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (0%, 1 Votes)
- Richard Gasquet (0%, 1 Votes)
- David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 250
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Serena Williams (42%, 47 Votes)
- Victoria Azarenka (15%, 17 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (13%, 15 Votes)
- Garbine Muguruza (12%, 13 Votes)
- Simona Halep (7%, 8 Votes)
- Other (4%, 5 Votes)
- Carla Suarez Navarro (4%, 4 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (2%, 2 Votes)
- Belinda Bencic (1%, 1 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 113
Winner of his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros in 2005, Rafael Nadal suffered a foot injury in the fall that could have put an end to his career. He missed the Australian Open in 2006 but came back and fought his way to a second Roland Garros title.
Extract from Nadal’s autobiography, Rafa:
Returning to Monte Carlo that year was like coming home. Once again I came up against Federer in the final, and once again I won. Then I faced him again in the final at Rome. It was a killer match, a true test of whether I recovered from my injury. I had. The match went to five sets, lasted five hours; I saved two match points, and I won. And then it was Roland Garros and a chance I thought I’d never have just four months earlier of preserving my French Open crown. It meant more to me to be back here now than it had to be here the year before, even though tgat had been my first time. Winning this would mean, for me and my family, that the nightmare we’d gone through would be, if not forgotten, exorcised, and we could resume, in a clear and confident state of mind, the victorious trajectory that had been so nearly terminally curtailed. And I had a point to prove: I wanted to show that my win in 2005 had not been a one-off, that I was in the Grand Slam league to stay.
I made it to the final by a tough route, beating some of the top players of the moment, among them Robin Soderling, Lleyton Hewitt and, in the quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic. A year younger than me, Djokovic was a hell of a player, temperamental but hugely talented. Toni and I had been talking about him and I’d been watching him in my rearview miror, looming closer, for a while now. He’d been racing up the rankings, and I had a strong feeling that he would be neck and neck with me before too long, that it would not just be me, but me and him, against Federer. Djokovic had a strong serve and was fast and wiry and strong – often dazzling – on both forehand and backhand. Above all, I could see he had big ambitions and a winner’s temperament. More a hard court than a clay court player, he was competitive enough to make it difficult for me in the Roland quarters. I won the first two sets 6-4 6-4, and was preparing for a long afternoon’s work when unfortunately for him, but fortunately for me, he had to pull out with an injury.
In the final it was Federer again. I lost the first set 6-1, but won the next three, the final one on a tiebreak. Wathing the video of the match later, I thought Federer played better than me overall, but in an atmosphere of high tension (he, so eager to complete the foursome of major titles; me, so desperate to banish the ghosts of my exile), I stuck it out.
As Carlos Moya saw it, Federer was not fully Federer when he played against me. Carlos said I had beaten him by attrition, badgering him into untypical mistakes for a man of such enormous natural talent. That had been the plan, but I also think I won because I’d won the year before and that gave me a confidence I might otherwise have lacked, especially against Federer. Whatever the case, I’d won my second Grand Slam.
After all I had been through, it was an incredibly emotional moment. I ran up in the stands, as I had done the year before, and this time it was my father I sought. We hugged hard and we were both crying. “Thank you, Daddy, for everything!” I said. He doesn’t like to show his feelings. He had felt the need to look strong and composed during my injury, but it was not until now that I fully grasped how hard he’d battled to stop himself from breaking down. Then I hugged my mother, who was also in tears. The thought that filled my mind at that moment of victory was that it as their support that had pulled me through. Winning the French Open in 2006 meant that we’d come through the worst; we’d overcome a challenge we feared might overwhelm us, and we had come out the stronger for it. For my father, I know, that was the moment of greatest joy of my entire career.