If there was any doubt, there isn't any more: Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court tennis player to ever play the game. In a two-day final, delayed by rain, Rafa overcame his biggest rival Novak Djokovic 64 63 26 75 to win his seventh Roland Garros title, and seventh in the past eight years. He still only has one loss at the event, to Robin Soderling in 2009.
Nadal mesmerized Djokovic in the first two sets with his unstoppable clay court play, and it looked like the Serb was feeling the effects of his two five-setters en route to the final. The match looked like it would end comfortably in straight sets once Nadal got up 2-0 in the 3rd set, but then Djokovic rallied off 8 consecutive games to take a stranglehold in the 4th set, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 (up a break). And then the rain came, which halted play for the night, much to Rafa's pleasure. When they came back the day after, Rafa started the way he did to start the match, breaking Novak right away and eventually breaking again at 6-5 on a Djokovic double fault to claim his 7th French Open and 11th Grand Slam overall.
The match seemed to be a reverse of the Wimbledon and US Open from last year. In those bouts, Djokovic dominated the first two sets, and then Rafa came back to force a 4th, only to have Djokovic shut the door there. In this encounter, Rafa was the one that dominated the first two sets, and it was Nole that had to pull out every trick in the book to force a 4th set. It even looked like he might force a 5th at one point, and he very well might have before rain forced play to discontinue for the day.
Once play was stopped, Rafa had some choice words for the tournament referee, as he felt that play should have been stopped much earlier because of the rain. Of course, he likely had some safety concerns, but his main problem was that he had just lost 8 of the previous 9 games, and the momentum swing could be attributed to the heavy rainfall. Rafa's heavy topspin groundstrokes started having less and less effect and Djokovic was starting to take control of the rallies and find his imperious rhythm from the baseline. The rain was a big factor why Djokovic made it a match in the 3rd set when he was down a break. It is worth noting that when Rafa won the next day, it wasn't as rainy and there was only a very brief stop while showers passed by the courts. When he finally got match point, the skies were clear and the sun was shining through.
Djokovic was clearly under a lot of pressure under the circumstances - trying to win his 4th Grand Slam in a row - something of which both Federer (twice) and Nadal failed to do. You never know, of course, but it may have been the final chance for Novak to win 4 straight. Also, he has never won the French Open and was playing in his 1st Roland Garros final, and that surely had to be weighing on his mind, especially with the King of Clay on the other side of the net. However, I have no doubt Novak will have many more chances to win the French Open and complete the Career Slam.
As for Nadal, who knows how many more French Opens he will win? Nine? Ten? It's very possible. It's likely that as Rafa gets older, he will spend the most amount of energy on claiming the one prize he cherishes most in the arena that he now owns. That will certainly be the case if his health does not remain perfect, where it will be harder for him to win on hardcourt with his knee problems.
Personally, I didn't find the match as enthralling from a tennis point of view as the previous three Slam finals these two played, but with the enormity of the occasion, it was expected, I guess. They would certainly have to go to great efforts to try to top their Australian Open epic.
With the clay court season out of the way, it is on to Halle where play has already begun. Rafa will need to make the quick transition from a slow clay court to a fast grass court very quickly if he wants to win the title on Sunday. I would be surprised if Rafa wins the event, seeing as he hasn't played in Halle for a very long time, and the grass is much quicker than at Wimbledon.