Nadal clinches fifth French Open title

RAFAEL NADAL today produced another masterclass of clay-court tennis to win his fifth French Open title and avenge last year's defeat by Robin Soderling.

The Spaniard saved his best performance of the tournament - and arguably of the season - for the only man who had ever beaten him at Roland Garros.

The 24-year-old's 6-4 6-2 6-4 victory in two hours and 18 minutes ended any doubt over his status as the king of clay, gave him his seventh grand slam title and will see him overtake Roger Federer as world number one tomorrow.

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Time and again, Soderling thought he had Nadal where he wanted him on Philippe Chatrier Court today.

But the second seed would almost inevitably make him play one more shot or produce a sensational winner as he emulated his 2008 feat of winning the title without dropping a set.

Much had been made in the build-up of the impact of the weather, and storms were forecast.

But the match began in bright sunshine, which would have pleased odds-on favourite Nadal.

Soderling, who avenged his own defeat in last year's final by beating Federer on Tuesday, made the more impressive start, holding his opening two service games - more than he managed at the same stage in 2009.

He failed to make the most of Nadal errors that gave him 30-40 in game four but had his opponent rattled when the Spaniard challenged a serve at 15-30 in the next, only for umpire Cedric Mourier to disagree.

Nadal nevertheless went on to fashion two break points, taking the second when Soderling suicidally left a crosscourt backhand which he thought was dropping long.

The Swede was playing a high-risk game but began hitting more errors than winners, summed up in game seven when he slumped from 40-0 and had to save two more break points.

A Nadal double-fault gave Soderling the first of two break-back points in the next but more mistakes from the fifth seed followed.

The theme continued when he was serving to stay in the set, handing Nadal 0-40.

He served his way out of trouble but was not able to stop his opponent serving out the set.

Dark clouds had begun gathering towards the end of the first set but the rain held off.

There was a hint of a momentum change though when Soderling had four break points in game two of the second, the 25-year-old roared on by chants of "Robin, Robin, Robin" from a surprisingly partisan crowd.

But Nadal chased down the most forlorn of causes and was rewarded when he held.

For his second straight match, the Spaniard was made to wait when a spectator required attention in game four, but he kept his composure.

And he produced some incredible shot-making to break to love in the next, Soderling shaking his head in disbelief.

Nadal appeared to be everywhere at times but only had to stand still as a double-fault gave him the first of two double-break points in game seven.

Soderling netted on the second and Nadal duly held to win the second set.

Support for Soderling was now becoming more muted and he tossed away his serve in the opening game of the third set with the air of a beaten man.

He rallied to break-back point in the next but, once again, Nadal refused to yield.

The set then went with serve, Soderling avoiding what could have been a fatal double-break when 30-40 down in game seven.

But Nadal was serving imperiously and held his nerve to seal a 6-4 6-2 6-4 before sliding to the ground in delight.