PARIS (Reuters) - Claycourt king Rafa Nadal regained his Roland Garros throne after two years in exile with a brutal 6-2 6-3 6-1 mauling of Swiss Stan Wawrinka to complete ‘La Decima’ on Sunday.
Rewinding the clock to the days when he was untouchable on the crushed brick dust, the 31-year-old turned 2015 champion Wawrinka into a human punch bag, winning in just over two hours.
This title, a record 10th at a single grand slam in the professional era, was arguably the most impressive of his 15 majors, though, as it arrived three injury-plagued years after the last one when he beat Novak Djokovic here in 2014.
He also did it without dropping a set and conceding only 35 games in seven matches. Only Bjorn Borg, who conceded 32 on his way to the 1978 title, has been a more ruthless champion.
Third seed Wawrinka, having beaten world number one Andy Murray with a majestic display of firepower in a gruelling semi-final, arrived full of hope as, at 32, he tried to become the oldest French Open winner since Andres Gimeno in 1972.
But the barrel-chested ‘Stanimal’ was powerless as Nadal turned the final into an exhibition of his claycourt supremacy -- taking his French Open record to an eye-watering 79-2.
As a weary Wawrinka sliced a volley into the net on match point Nadal collapsed on his back on the baseline.
“I‘m a little emotional,” Nadal said before his tearful uncle Toni, his career-long coach who will take a back seat at the end of the year, handed him La Coupe des Mousquetaires.
“The nerves and adrenaline I feel on this court is impossible to compare.”
Wawrinka said he had not found his best level but paid tribute to the man he beat to win the first of his three grand slam titles in Australia in 2014.
“For sure he’s playing the best he’s ever played. That’s for sure. Not only here,” Wawrinka said. “It’s a tough loss. But I played against the biggest clay-court player ever.”
Straw hats and fans were de rigueur for an expectant Court Philippe Chatrier as the final began with temperatures hovering around the 30 degrees Celcius mark -- optimum conditions for Nadal’s monstrous topspin game.
Wawrinka, who spent nearly five hours more on court than Nadal to reach the final, looked confused and heavy-legged although he did have a glimmer in the third game when Nadal, still settling down, saved a break point.
Nadal failed to convert any of the four break points he had in the following game, but drew first blood the next time an opportunity arose to take a 4-2 lead.
Then he switched on the afterburners, taking Wawrinka out of the equation, and minutes later the Swiss wafted a forehand long to hand Nadal a second break of serve and the opening set.
Wawrinka was flat, striking not a single winner off his glorious single-handed backhand in the first set, and with less than an hour on the clock his task already looked forlorn.
Nadal got a time violation at the start of the second, but Wawrinka could not slow the Spaniard’s charge as he bounded into a 3-0 lead in the second having won seven games in a row.
With the crowd attempting to lift Wawrinka he stopped the rot to hold, firing himself up with a roar of “C‘mon”.
Nadal was relentless though, pinning Wawrinka back behind the baseline. Even when he was stretched the response was emphatic, one astonishing forehand, whipped from close to the front row of seats to land in a blur of yellow in the corner, drawing gasps from the crowd and applause from Wawrinka.
Social media lit up at that point with women’s semi-finalist Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland tweeting “OMG!”
Wawrinka, who had been on an 11-match winning streak on clay, was being hunted down mercilessly and his frustration boiled over as the Spaniard closed in on a two-set lead, the Swiss wrecking his racket frame after a missed forehand.
A brief lull as the court staff watered down the red dust failed to extinguish Nadal’s fire and, despite Wawrinka’s best efforts to extend the contest, the final set was little more than a coronation for Paris’s favourite Spaniard.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Ken Ferris