By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - One of her twin girls in one arm and a glass of champagne in the other hand, Roger Federer's wife Mirka looked far from dejected after her husband once again came up short against Rafa Nadal in a French Open final on Sunday.
And for very good reason.
What is more, the Roger-Rafa rivalry, one of the greatest the sport has seen, looks set for a few more skirmishes after both began the year looking vulnerable.
Spanish clay king Nadal has now beaten Federer in four French Open finals but he was given a real scrap before getting his hands on the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Sunday. Had it not been for a few tight shots here and there, it could have been Federer celebrating.
Federer's astounding semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic on Friday, snapping the Serb's incredible 41-match winning streak this season, silenced the doubters who assumed the 29-year-old could no longer threaten the world's top two.
There were also phases of play against Nadal when he looked back to his best -- as he predicted.
"I told people that we should wait six months after the Australian Open when people thought Rafa and me were done," Federer told a news conference after losing 7-5 7-6 5-7 6-1 on Court Philippe Chatrier.
"It's unfortunate that it goes so quickly at times. Now we're back in the finals and now it's different talk again. I don't even go there, because I knew it wasn't the case."
Nadal and Federer had not faced each other in a grand slam final since the Spaniard won the 2009 Australian Open in five sets.
Nadal had not won a major since last year's U.S. Open, while Federer's last grand slam triumph was at the 2010 Australian Open.
The world number three barely seemed to care.
"I've been confident for almost a year now. I think I lost some confidence maybe through the French Open and Wimbledon last year but I was in the finals of (the Wimbledon warm-up event in) Halle as well in this period, so I didn't feel like I was running after confidence," said Federer, whose priority was to get back into a grand slam final.
"It was just important to get to another grand slam final, keep on playing well," he explained.
"I'm feeling better physically than I have in a long time, so that's been very positive. Also, after this sort of tough weekend I feel really good, so that's been positive, too.
"Sure, it was a huge match with Novak. Obviously I'm happy about that win.Today was a very good match. Overall obviously I'm very happy about the tournament."
Djokovic, whom Federer beat in four sets in one of the greatest matches played at Roland Garros, would have become world number one had he reached the final or if Federer had beaten Nadal on Sunday.
Had Federer converted the set point he had at 5-2 in the first set instead of popping a drop shot wide, the latter of those two scenarios may have come true.
Despite picking up another runners-up cheque in Paris, Federer clearly revelled in being back in the spotlight he has shared with Nadal pretty much since 2004 when he took over as world number one from Andy Roddick.
"You can for sure (appreciate the moment and how big it is for tennis as well)," said Federer.
"When I won the third set and it was already very competitive all along and I was able to push it to a fourth set, sure, I knew the importance of the match."
"That's obviously the huge priority right now, to win Wimbledon in a few weeks' time," he said. "That's always, for me, the sort of No. 1 goal in the season."
(Editing by Martyn Herman and Pritha Sarkar)