Emotional Nadal back where he belongs

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By Martyn Herman

Soderling threw all he could muster at Nadal during the early skirmishes of Sunday's Roland Garros final but unlike last year when those tactics proved so devastating, this time it was like tackling a raging bull with a pea shooter.

When a weary Soderling slapped a backhand into the net at the end of a second consecutive defeat in the final here, Nadal collapsed backwards, closed his eyes and clenched his fists.

After shaking hands with Soderling and sitting down on his chair, the tears rolled freely down Nadal's face as Spain's Queen Sofia gazed proudly down on one of her country's favorite sons.

With the gleaming Coupe des Mousquetaires tucked under his arm, Nadal told the crowd on Chatrier court that it was the most emotional day of his career, more so than his previous four victories here or his 2008 Wimbledon triumph.

Nadal will replace rival Roger Federer as number one in the world rankings on Monday but all that mattered to the 24-year-old on Sunday was that the demons of 2009 -- when knee injuries and the divorce of his parents drained his powers -- had been banished.

His uncle, coach and confidant Toni summed up what it meant.

"For Rafael it's more important to know that he is one of the best claycourt players in history," he told reporters.

There can be few arguments about that as Andy Roddick said on his Twitter site: "Rafa Nadal... best ever on clay -- period."


Early morning thunderstorms had departed by the time Nadal bounded back to the baseline to begin the final which attracted not only Spanish royalty but music stars Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z.

As expected, fifth seed Soderling came out all guns blazing hoping to chip away at Nadal's armor. His flat groundstrokes kept Nadal pinned back and he had a break point in the fourth game which he wasted with a loose backhand.

Nadal offered a rare gift in the eighth game when a double fault gave Soderling another break point but again he was careless, this time limply hitting his return wide.

Soderling failed to convert any of his eight break points and with Nadal in such a miserly mood, that proved fatal to his chances of going one better than when he lost to Federer in the 2009 final.

His last chance to turn the match around came at the start of the second set when he had Nadal 15-40 on serve. An ace and and Soderling mistake brought it back to deuce but a third chance arrived straight away.

Cue an extraordinary point from Nadal. Somehow he got a racket to a Soderling forehand, then retrieved a smash and finally launched a counter-attack which pushed the Swede back before winning the point with a drop volley.

Soderling's resolve dwindled after that and Nadal began to boss the rallies, picked off Soderling at will.

Nadal romped through the second set and although the Swede gamely hung on in the third there was nothing he could do to halt Nadal's return to the summit of the world game.

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)