Fourth-seeded Spanish teenager Rafael Nadal has defeated Mariano Puerta of Argentina to capture the French Open clay court tennis tournament outside of Paris. It was the first Grand Slam title of Nadal's career.
After a surprise loss in the first set tiebreaker at Roland Garros Sunday, the 19-year-old Nadal battled back to beat unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5 in a thrilling final. The hard-fought match lasted three hours and 24 minutes.
The 26-year-old Puerta, who missed last year's French Open serving a doping ban (nine-months after testing positive for clenbuterol), suffered a groin injury in the first set. But he had it bandaged and played through the discomfort, before wasting three three set points, which would have forced a decisive fifth set. Puerta was satisfied with his performance.
"I played great tennis today, but I lost against a great player," he said. "The best player in clay court today, so I am happy."
The see-saw fourth set ended when Puerta pushed a forehand wide. Nadal collapsed flat on his back, lying in the clay, before rising to embrace Puerta at the net. The young champion trotted to the other end of the court to shake hands with the Spanish king, Juan Carlos, who had cheered him on from the front row.
"It was an unbelievable match," said Nadal. "I played with my best head, with my best tennis and I won the final, fortunately. A very good match, but sometimes in the match, I thought I was going to lose."
With his 24th consecutive victory, all on clay, Nadal becomes the first player to win the men's title in his French Open debut since Sweden's Mats Wilander in 1982. It was the first Grand Slam final appearance for both players.
In the women's final Saturday, 10th-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium overpowered Number-21 Frenchwoman Mary Pierce 6-1, 6-1 to claim the women's crown.