The Spanish flag is seen in the background as Rafael Nadal of Spain holds the trophy after winning the mens final match against Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday June 11, 2012. Rain suspended the final making it the first French Open not to end on Sunday since 1973. Nadal won in four sets 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, passing Sweden's Bjorn Borg as the all-time record-holder for French Open titles. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)AP 2012
Rafael Nadal won his record seventh French Open title, returning to Roland Garros on Monday to defeat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 in a match that was halted the night before because of rain.
When play resumed, second-seeded Nadal promptly broke top-seeded Djokovic's serve to pull even at 2-2. The rain started falling again, and with Nadal leading 5-4 in the fourth, it looked as if play might be halted once more.
But the players waited it out for a few minutes under umbrellas, and Nadal returned to the court. Each man held serve, then Nadal got another break, winning match point on Djokovic's double fault.
Djokovic failed in his quest to become the first winner of four straight major titles in 43 years.
For the first two sets, Rafael Nadal looked like the King of the Clay, alternately bullying Novak Djokovic, then frustrating him, as Djokovic tried to solve the nearly unsolvable riddle of Nadal at Roland Garros.
The longer a steady drizzle soaked the court, however, the better Djokovic looked — and in addition to becoming the first man to win four straight major titles in 43 years, it seemed as if he might be the first to win on a new Grand Slam surface: red mud.
Not to be.
Officials stepped in and halted play at Sunday's waterlogged French Open final with Nadal, in search of his record seventh Roland Garros title, clinging to a 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 lead. If the weather cooperates, the final act will be Monday, with Djokovic serving the same tennis balls that Nadal was complaining were too saturated in the minutes before play was halted.
One of these men will make history, but regardless, this final already has: It will be the first French Open not to end on Sunday since 1973, when Ilie Nastase wrapped up his title on a Tuesday.
Answering most of the questions after play stopped were the Roland Garros tournament director and referee, who stuck by a 3 p.m. starting time — missing out on hours of dry weather earlier in the day — then, in some eyes, let play go on too long, as the red clay got saturated and slabs of caked clay chunked up on the court and adhered to the grooves in the players' shoes.
Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and coach, said he thought action should have been suspended earlier, "because the court was too wet."
Tournament referee Stefan Fransson justified his decision to keep playing, while tournament director Gilbert Ysern defended the choice — made with TV considerations very much in mind — to stick with the starting time.
"You can't say that everybody knew for sure at what time it was going to rain today," Ysern said. "I did not know, and if anybody is able to tell (me) for sure at what time it's going to rain the next day, I'm willing to hire him."
This handwringing put a damper on one of the most important and anticipated finals in some time: Nadal trying to pass Bjorn Borg as the all-time record-holder for French Open titles, and Djokovic trying to become the first player since Rod Laver to win four straight Grand Slam tournaments.