PARIS, France, June 6- Rafael Nadal won a 10th Grand Slam crown and equalled Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles when he defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 6-1 on Sunday in the rivals' latest epic duel.
Top seed Nadal, who was also champion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010, took his overall Paris record to 45 wins against just one defeat and victory also meant he hangs on to his world number one spot.
It was the 25-year-old Spaniard’s 17th win over Federer in 25 meetings and fourth in a Roland Garros final.
But unlike the pair’s 2008 clash, when Federer managed to win just four games in the most one-sided final in 30 years, Nadal was made to work harder for his sixth Paris title.
He had to come from 2-5 in the opener, saving a set point, and then squandered a 4-2 lead in the third as 29-year-old Federer, the 2009 champion and bidding for a 17th Grand Slam title, threatened to launch a stunning comeback.
In the end, he was undone by a combination of Nadal’s claycourt prowess and his own 56 unforced errors.
"This tournament is really something very special and exceptional for me. One of my biggest dreams has come true. I’m very moved right now," said Nadal after his sixth win in eight Grand Slam finals against Federer.
"Thanks to all the fans. Thanks to all the ones who make this tournament the best in the world and thanks to my family who travel with me and make it all possible.
"We played a good match today. Roger played fantastic."
Federer, playing in his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2010 Australian Open, praised the Spaniard.
"It was an exceptional performance by Rafa. He’s beaten me again. I’m sad but I am happy to play him," said Federer.
"He is the best player on clay but I am proud of the way I have played over the last two weeks but I couldn’t do enough against him. It was important to get into another Grand Slam final."
In a final played in heavy, muggy conditions at Roland Garros, Federer raced to a 3-0 lead courtesy of two confident service games and a break in the second game when Nadal netted a simple running forehand.
The Swiss, playing in his 23rd Grand Slam final, was soon 5-2 ahead with Nadal’s problems compounded by having to call for treatment on a blister on his left heel at the changeover.
But Nadal regrouped and saved a set point in the seventh game, albeit by the smallest of margins when a Federer drop shot just missed the target.
The Spaniard went to 3-5 with a thumping backhand crosscourt winner before he retrieved the break in the ninth game with a sweeping, low forehand which the approaching Federer could only volley into the net.
Nadal held for 5-5 and broke to lead for 6-5 by winning a thrilling eye-to-eye duel at the net with a reflex volley before a rattled Federer netted a simple forehand.
The Spaniard clinched the set after 62 minutes when he swept a killer forehand crosscourt with Federer hopelessly out of position.
It was Nadal’s fifth game in a row and that soon became seven with a break and hold to lead 2-0 in the second set.
Federer had to serve two aces on his way to saving three break points in the fifth game, but then broke to level at 4-4, for once breaching Nadal’s impeccable defences.
But he handed the advantage straight back in the next game, skewering a backhand wide having saved two break points.
Nadal missed a set point at 5-4 before rain brought a 10-minute halt. He squandered another on the resumption before Federer made him pay to hit back for 5-5.
However, the top seed dominated the tie break. A weak approach from Federer allowed Nadal to fire back a backhand pass to carve out four set points and he was two sets to the good thanks to a another searing, forehand winner.
Federer was broken to love to slip 4-2 down in the third set but bravely clung on to nip straight back to trail 3-4.
He successfully served to stay in the match in the 10th game, broke for 6-5 before having the crowd on their feet by snatching the third set 7-5.
In a rollercoaster of an occasion, Nadal fought off two break points in the opening game of the fourth set, then broke to love for a 3-1 lead and held for 4-1.
Suddenly, the fight was suddenly gone from Federer as Nadal clinched a double break for 5-1.
A netted service return gave Nadal three match points and a sixth title was his when Federer went long with a forehand.