PARIS — Rafael Nadal made tennis history on Sunday, defeating Spanish compatriot David Ferrer 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 for a record eighth French Open title in a final marred by anti-gay marriage protests in the stands and an intruder with a flare on the court.
The world's fourth-ranked player — who will drop to fifth in the ATP rankings despite his title — becomes the first man to win eight singles titles at the same grand slam in the post-1968 Open era.
He fell to his back on the wet clay after sending over a baseline winner of first match point. He was presented with the trophy by six-time Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt.
"This one of my most special titles," said Nadal. "Last year I had (knee injury) low moments. If my family and my team was not with me every day, it would be impossible to be here today.
"I never dreamed about doing something like this. I never realized that something like this could happen — but here we are. Thanks to life, which has given me this opportunity.
"David had a fantastic event, playing in his first grand slam final. I'm sorry for today, but he's a fighter and he deserved to be here."
Ferrer, who had not lost a set coming into the final, said: "I played very good tennis these two weeks. Congratulations to Rafa, he deserved everything, he's the best.
"I'll do my best to have another chance to try and win a grand slam. This is a special tournament and one where I played my best."
The protest high up in the Chatrier stadium consisted of a two people with a sign who were quickly hustled away midway through the second set.
But a few moments later on ground level, a shirtless man wearing a Phantom of the Opera-style white mask and also believed to be part of the anti-gay marriage group, jumped out of the courtside seats with a lit flare and managed to rush onto the Nadal side of the court before being body-slammed by security and hauled off.
The nearby incident briefly rattled Nadal, who double-faulted for a break point and dropped the game to lead 6-3, 5-2. But it was then Ferrer's turn to blink, with the challenger producing back-to-back double faults to hand over three set points to Nadal.
One was enough as Ferrer returned wide to go down two sets to love.
In the third set, as drizzle began in earnest, Nadal broke in the second game but lost serve in the third, but edged closer to victory with a break for 5-3 when Ferrer double-faulted. A game later, a wide Ferrer return put Nadal on two match points, with one enough to ensure another record for the Spanish king of clay.
Nadal came to the court against the compatriot whom he has now beaten in 20 of 24 matches as the only player at Roland Garros with seven trophies alongside Chris Evert.
The match played in heavy conditions with the threat of rain was not conducive to sun-loving Nadal, but the Spaniard got on with the job.