The world number one had targeted victory at Roland Garros, the only Grand Slam tournament he has not yet won, as the main objective of his season.
The death of his childhood coach and mentor, Jelena Gencic, last weekend only served to heighten that motivation as he vowed to try to win it in her memory.
Nadal’s mental fortitude is unmatched and he responded to win 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3/7) 9-7 in four hours and 37 minutes.
The Serb’s eyes reddened as he talked about where he goes from here, saying: “It’s not the first, it’s not the last loss in my career, and against this particular player. I lost the match after five hours. I wanted this title so much, so I am disappointed. That’s it.
“So hopefully I can use this next period that is coming up to recover and mentally get motivated and get inspired again to play my best tennis at Wimbledon.”