Usain Bolt hands the championship trophy to the champion. Thomas Coex, AFP/Getty Images
PARIS - Scrambling into corners and unleashing topspin-laden winners, Rafael Nadal used his favorite surface to show his fragile knees are far from done.
Nadal cruised past compatriot David Ferrer of Spain 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 to win his eighth French Open title on Sunday.
"Is one of the more special ones," said Nadal, who returned in February after a seven-month layoff to rest his ailing knees.
Nadal is the first man to win eight Grand Slam titles at any major.
With 12 majors overall, the 27-year-old Spaniard moves into a tie for third place with Roy Emerson. He trails only Roger Federer (17) and Pete Sampras (14) and is the second youngest, after Federer, to reach a dozen Grand Slam titles.
Nadal's march to the title started fitfully. He lost sets in the first two rounds for the first time in his career, but then rounded into form just in time for a clash with Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
Nadal prevailed against the No. 1 Serb 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7 in a match that lasted nearly five hours.
Nadal is now 59-1 in Paris, his only loss coming to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009.
Following his layoff, Nadal planned his return so that he could return on his preferred clay, which is easier on his knees. He quickly found his feet on dirt. The Mallorca native has reached finals in all nine tournaments he's entered, winning seven.
Noisy protesters, including one who briefly entered the field of play with a fiery flare, interrupted play in Sunday's 2-hour, 16-minute final. A light drizzle also fell at times, but nothing deterred Nadal from maintaining his hegemony at Roland Garros.
Nadal upped his record in major finals to 12-5. Ferrer, 31, was contesting his first Grand Slam final.
When the rankings come out on Monday, Ferrer actually will move ahead of Nadal, No. 4 to No. 5.
Both finalists grinded away from the baseline, with one rally lasting so long fans began to buzz, then started to shush each other.
The 5-foot-9 Ferrer, who was playing in his first Grand Slam final at age 31, often wins points by extending them with his dogged defense. But Nadal matched his retrieving skills, and the torque on his groundstrokes eventually had Ferrer reeling.
Trophy presenter Usain Bolt watched from the front row wearing sunglasses, even though the day was gray with occasional drizzle.
Nadal misfired more than usual in the early going, perhaps adjusting to slow conditions and feeling the effects of his 4½-hour win over Djokovic. He gave back an early service break and had to erase two other break points in the opening set.
It was the first set Ferrer had lost in the tournament, and at that point, he knew he faced a daunting task. Nadal is 146-3 when he wins the first set in Grand Slam tournaments.
Nadal broke again early in the second set, and then came Ferrer's best chance to reverse the course of the match. At 3-1 he had four break points, but Nadal erased them all, the last with a backhand winner to end a 31-shot rally, longest of the match.
In the final set, Ferrer double-faulted for the fifth time to lose serve and fall behind 5-3, and Nadal needed only five more points to close out the victory.
Nadal broke the record for most men's victories at Roland Garros he had shared with Federer and Guillermo Vilas. He improved to 20-4 against Ferrer and has won 17 consecutive meetings on clay.