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Rafael Nadal Takes Home French Open Victory

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Rafael Nadal took his 13th win on the red clay of the French Open yesterday in Paris against Novak Djokovic. Djokovic is one of only two men to ever beat Nadal at the French Open, and he's defeated Nadal the last three times they've played Grand Slam matches - but not this time. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley was watching.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: "This man is invincible," exclaimed the French sports announcer as Nadal clinched his 13th title with an ace serve that Djokovic couldn't touch.

(SOUNDBITE OF TENNIS AMBIENCE)

BEARDSLEY: From the start of the match, Nadal set the pace and world No. 1 Djokovic could barely keep up. When Djokovic did turn up his game in the third set, spectators were treated to some superhuman tennis. Nadal sank to his knees with a huge smile on his face when he won.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAFAEL NADAL: For me, as everybody know here, this court is the most important court in my tennis career and the court that I enjoyed more special moments, and today was one of these.

BEARDSLEY: Unknown 19-year-old Polish sensation Iga Swiatek exploded out of nowhere to take the women's title, beating American Sofia Kenin, 6-4, 6-1. Swiatek's freshness and surprise charmed the crowd.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

IGA SWIATEK: First of all, I'm not very good at speeches - so sorry - because I won my last tournament, like, three years ago. And...

(APPLAUSE)

BEARDSLEY: It was a French Open like no other. The tournament was postponed more than four months. The players were kept in near quarantine. And the normal 32,000 daily spectators were kept to a thousand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: It was bizarre to see play against a backdrop of empty seats and officials and players wearing masks on the podium during the awards ceremonies. Nadal noted the changed environment.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NADAL: In some way, it's not that happy because we can't celebrate the tournament in a normal way. But anyway (speaking French)...

BEARDSLEY: A new sliding panel roof over center court helped deal with the autumn rains. Despite everything, the tournament is being hailed a success. As Le Figaro newspaper noted in an editorial, the magic was stronger than COVID.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.