Friday, May 25, 2018
Sports

More than title on line for Djokovic, Nadal

PARIS — Here comes the French Open final everyone expected:

No. 1 Novak Djokovic, one victory from becoming the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive major championships, against No. 2 Rafael Nadal, one victory from becoming the only man to win seven titles at Roland Garros.

Djokovic is undefeated in his past 27 Grand Slam matches, which includes beating Nadal in the final at Wimbledon in July, the U.S. Open in September and the Australian Open in January. Nadal has won 51 of 52 career matches at the French Open; only he and Bjorn Borg have won the clay court tournament six times.

Never before have the same two men met in four Grand Slam finals in a row.

"I have this golden opportunity to make history. This motivates me. It really inspires me. I'm really grateful to be in this position, obviously," said the Djokovic, 25, who owns five Grand Slam titles to Nadal's 10. "And look, I'll try to prepare for that match and get my hands on that trophy, if I can."

Djokovic and Nadal breezed through their semifinals Friday. If this stage of a Grand Slam is supposed to provide a challenge, it did not — which was striking when you consider Djokovic faced 16-time major champion Roger Federer and won 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that wasn't really that close.

"His mental state and preparation for this match was excellent," said Djokovic's coach, Marian Vadja, "and this has to happen against Rafa."

Nadal found himself flying by the seat of his pants on one point against No. 6 David Ferrer, somehow winning the exchange despite falling on his rump. Otherwise, he was in control en route to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory.

With his fellow Spaniard serving at 1-1, 30-all in the second set, Nadal produced a masterpiece.

During a point that lasted more than 30 shots, Nadal's feet slipped out from under him as he sprinted toward the net. Suddenly sitting, Nadal raised his left arm to slice a backhand drop shot that prolonged the point and drew Ferrer forward.

Nadal popped up in time for the next shot, a volley-lob that arced over Ferrer's head and settled near the baseline. Ferrer got to the ball, but his forehand landed in the net.

That gave Nadal a break point, and he converted it in much more conventional fashion.

Increasingly confounded by his opponent and the swirling wind, Federer made 46 unforced errors.

"I was struggling to sort of keep the ball in play," said Federer, who is 30 and nearly 2½ years removed from his most recent major championship. "When you're down two sets to love against Novak, it's not the same match anymore. He goes for broke and there is no more fear."

Asked to size up Sunday's final, Federer didn't hesitate.

"I obviously pick Rafa," he said. "I think he's the overwhelming favorite."

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