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Nadal takes 9th French Open title in war of attrition vs. Djokovic

Rafael Nadal lifted the men's championship trophy for the ninth time on Sunday in Paris, after outlasting Novak Djokovic in four sets, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4.

Rafa Nadal returning a ball from Novak Djokovic
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Rafa and Novak embrace after their 2014 French Open final match
Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images

This one had all the drama and acrobatic shots we have come to expect from this rivalry, but it was marred by both men's reaction to the conditions and Djokovic's sour stomach, so to speak.

NBC decided to use its super so-mo shot for demonstrating how sick Novak truly was. Whatever that was that came out of his mouth between games was way too much information for the average fan. We didn't need it, because anyone who has watched Djokovic over the years knows his body language and facial expressions well enough to know when he's not well.

Nadal went into the match having lost his last four matches against the Serb star, including the title in Rome on clay. Could he defend what has become his home court? You betcha'. It wasn't without its moments of doubt and then fear that Rafa had tweaked his back again, but he was the more physically well player on the court yesterday.

The ebbs and flows of the match were more pronounced than usual. Nadal looked positively out of sorts in the first set, committing unforced errors, even on his super human top spin forehand. Djokovic was hitting balls with maximum force and returning them with speed that helped Nadal look unready to compete at his highest level.

Novak also hit a lot more drop shots than usual and they were humdingers, testing Nadal's knees and back. He served and volleyed a bit, no doubt in part due to his new coach Boris Becker.

Then it was Rafa's turn to put on more of a show as Djokovic began to look a bit sick. In the third, NBC announcer Ted Robinson likened the duel to the Ali-Frazier III bout --- the Thrilla in Manila. Both fighters could have died in that ring and almost did. It was just a matter of who would survive til the final bell. They had absorbed the best each had to offer in the heat of Manila.

A grand slam tournament like the French Open is hard fought over the course of 15 days, with men playing best of five sets format. The power with which the top players hit and the speed used to cover the court takes stamina most mortals don't have. By the time the finals rolls around, you just hope both players are rested enough and physically capable of putting on a great show.

That's what we expect from Nadal vs. Djokoic --- a good show and for a good part of Sunday afternoon we got that. Even as he grew sicker, Novak Djokovic got a third and fourth wind as soon as Rafa began to look vulnerable again. When Novak double-faulted on championship point both men were happy it was over.

Now they go off to the tune-up grass court tournaments prior to the start of Wimbledon. Grass stains on white attire here we come.

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