Rafa and Ana ruled Paris

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The 2008 French Open headlines were dominated by its singles champions, as Rafael Nadal soared into some rarified air with his fourth straight title in Paris, while Ana Ivanovic became both the new women's world No. 1 and a first-time Grand Slam titlist.

Nadal joined six-time champ Bjorn Borg as the only player in the Open Era (1968) to rattle off four straight French Open titles, which he did without dropping a set (or breaking a sweat for that matter) at the storied clay-court fortnight. He performed the tennis equivalent of assault in the final against world No. 1 Roger Federer, stomping the Swiss in a mere 22 games under the watchful eye of Borg, who took to the court following the disappointing match to present the hardware.

As a matter of fact, it was one of the most dominant performances ever in a men's major final, as the Spanish bull charged over the artistic Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 in the plaza de toros that is Roland Garros. It marked the worst French Open final beatdown in 31 years, since Argentine great Guillermo Vilas tattooed helpless American Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 way back in 1977.

Nadal committed a paltry seven unforced errors in his rout.

Rafael Nadal joined Bjorn Borg as the only other four-peat French Open champion in the Open Era.
The Spaniard, however, does not want to be remembered as a one-trick pony and still needs to win something, in terms of majors, outside of Paris. He is a two-time Wimbledon runner-up and would appear to have a real shot at Federer at the All England Club, where Nadal seriously pushed the Swiss last year before Federer wound up winning a fifth straight title by squeaking out a five-setter at the venerable theater of tennis.

Federer is still second on the all-time Grand Slam titles list with 12, and still needs that elusive French Open crown to complete a career Grand Slam. And unless something like an injury slows Nadal over the next few years, the chances of Federer reigning supreme at Roland Garros look bleak at this point.

This marks the first time since 2005 that Federer failed to win one of the first two major tournaments of the year.

Federer has finished as the runner-up to Rafa in the last three French Open finals, and also gave way to the powerful Mallorcan in the semis at Roland Garros back in '05.

The 22-year-old Rafa is now 11-6 lifetime versus the 26-year-old Roger, including an incredible 9-1 mark against the smooth Swiss on clay, where Federer clearly is no slouch but the Spaniard is clearly head and shoulders above everybody else...possibly ever.

Ana Ivanovic left Paris as the French Open champ and new women's world No. 1.
Nadal has never lost in the main draw in Paris, going 28-0 in four trips. And he's 115-2 on dirt since 2005, at one point winning a record 81 straight on clay before falling to Federer in last year's Hamburg Masters finale.

The reigning five-time Wimbledon and four-time U.S. Open titlist Federer has still appeared in 11 of the last 12 Grand Slam finals, going 8-3.

By the way, Federer is a flawless 23-0 at Roland Garros since 2005 against anyone that's not named Nadal. That's pretty good.

The men's "Big Three" also features Novak Djokovic, who, like the rest of the field, was no match for the mighty Nadal in Paris, where the Serb has lost to the Spaniard three years in a row, including the semis the last two years. Djokovic was trying to reach a third straight major final, having won the Aussie Open back in January and finished as the runner-up to Federer at last year's U.S. Open. Djokovic stunned Federer in this year's semis at the Aussie, preventing the Swiss from landing in an 11th straight Grand Slam final.

The big surprise on the men's side was previously underachieving Frenchman Gael Monfils, who soared all the way into the semis where he took Federer to five sets on the 80-year-old Court Chatrier. Monfils is a former junior standout that had failed to produce any eye-catching Grand Slam results until last week.

Thanks to his performance in his hometown, the Paris native is now up to No. 32 in the world. Monfils headed to RG ranked 59th.

Roger Federer still needs Roland Garros to complete that elusive career Grand Slam.
On the women's side, the path to the title opened up a couple of weeks earlier when reigning three-time Roland Garros champion and reigning world No. 1 Justine Henin decided to retire from the grueling WTA Tour. And things got a little bit easier for some of the top names in the second week in Paris when both of the mighty Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, lost on the same day in round three to Flavia Pennetta and Katarina Srebotnik, respectively.

With no Henin and no Williams sisters in sight, all eyes were forced to shift (if they hadn't already) toward No. 1 (at the time) Maria Sharapova, the solid Serbs, Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, and steady Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2006 French Open runner-up and 2007 U.S. Open runner-up.

Ivanovic and Jankovic wound up squaring off in a marquee semifinal, which Ivanovic took in three sets, marking the only set loss for Ivanovic on the entire fortnight.

And in the final, Ivanovic drilled previously red-hot Russian Dinara Safina in straights. A weary Safina was riding a brilliant 12-match winning streak, which included wins over Henin, Serena and Elena Dementieva at a clay-court event in Berlin, as well as victories over the Aussie Open champion Sharapova, the two-time major finalist Dementieva and Kuznetsova, in Paris. Safina saved match points in back-to-back outings against Sharapova and Dementieva in Paris.

FYI, Sharapova, like Federer, still needs the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam.

Dinara Safina, the younger sister of men's two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin, was a surprise finalist at the year's second major.
Ivanovic is the first-ever Serb to ascend to the top of the tennis rankings, male or female. The 20-year-old star was last year's French Open runner-up to the great Henin and lost to Sharapova in this year's Aussie Open title tilt.

You could just tell she was due to win one (a major, that is).

Henin was on hand to present the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen to Ivanovic in an unofficial changing of the guard.

The 2008 French Open also marked the retirement of "Guga." Three-time French Open champion and former world No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten called it a career after losing to Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu in the opening round in Paris.

Guga battled all kinds of hip problems for the better part of this decade, and had announced earlier this year that the appearance at his beloved Roland Garros would mark his farewell from the ATP.

It also marked the final French Open for crafty Frenchman Fabrice Santoro, who will hang 'em up at the end of this season, his 20th on the ATP. The 35-year- old competed in his 19th French Open, where he never advanced beyond the fourth round.

Here's the part where I say that the last Frenchman to win it all at Roland Garros was Yannick Noah, back in 1983, while the last French-born woman to run the table in Paris was Francoise Durr, way back in 1967.

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Scott Riley
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