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Big stakes on line in the clay

PARIS — There was a time when a Grand Slam final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was a regular occurrence.

Over a 12-major span from the 2006 French Open to the 2009 Australian Open, seven title matches were Roger vs. Rafa. No other pair of men in tennis history participated in a total of more than six Slam finals together.

"A lot of important matches for our careers," Nadal said. "A lot of emotions in these kind of matches."

And then, suddenly, it stopped. Federer and Nadal will renew their sublime rivalry today at the French Open, the first time in more than two years they'll decide a Grand Slam title.

"It's very special to have these guys back in another final," said U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier. "You never know if you're going to get another one. Just when you think you're in the sweet spot of an era, it can change very quickly."

As usual when it comes to Federer and Nadal, there is plenty at stake.

The top-seeded Nadal is 44-1 at Roland Garros and bidding for his sixth French Open championship, which would tie Bjorn Borg's record. Only two days after turning 25, he will be going for a 10th major title overall. Plus, he needs a victory to prevent Novak Djokovic from replacing him at No. 1 in the ATP ranking.

The third-seeded Federer seeks to add to his record of 16 Grand Slam trophies, including the 2009 French Open. He could become only the third man to own at least two titles from each of the sport's most important tournaments (he's won six at Wimbledon, five at the U.S. Open, four at the Australian Open).

And then there's this intriguing tidbit: Federer never has beaten Nadal at Roland Garros, going 0-4 — in the 2005 semifinals, and the 2006, 2007 and 2008 finals.

The only time Federer managed to win the French Open, he didn't have to face Nadal. Instead, Federer's straight-set victory in the 2009 final came against Robin Soderling, who stunned Nadal in the fourth round.

"It always seems to me that Rafa needs to be in a French Open final to make it special," Federer said after ending Djoko­vic's 43-match winning streak in the semifinals, "and I got the match I guess I was hoping for."

That's a fascinating statement, considering that Nadal is a player who troubles Federer in ways that no one else ever has. Nadal is 16-8 against Federer overall, including 5-2 in Grand Slam finals.

"It's about the matchup," Courier said. "Rafa will get a lot of comfort from seeing Roger on the other side of the net. And Roger will get a lot of discomfort from seeing Rafa. Not that Roger doesn't have a chance. He definitely does."

>>Today

Men's final

No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal vs. No. 3 Roger Federer

When/where: 9 a.m.; Roland Garros, Paris

TV: Ch. 8

By the numbers

Nadal Federer

25Age29

1Rank3

9-2Grand slam finals16-6

45Career titles67

5French Open titles1

22011 titles1

16-8Head-to-head8-16

514-107Career777-181

42-62011 record34-7

23-22011 record, clay12-3

Career record,

130-18Grand Slam 219-31

Career record,

44-1French Open49-11

Career record,

226-18 clay163-49

30-2 comebacks6

Big stakes on line in the clay 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 11:04pm]

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