Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nadal loves to spoil

PARIS — They have played 32 times. Their historical agendas are of similar heft. But Rafael Nadal will be on much more familiar ground than Novak Djokovic when they duel for this year's French Open men's title today.

That is not simply because Nadal is in his seventh French Open final and Djokovic in his first; not because Nadal grew up sliding on gritty red clay in Majorca while Djokovic cracked his first ground strokes on hardcourts painted green in the Serbian mountains.

It is because Nadal has already played the spoiler — respectfully, yet ruthlessly — in Paris.

In 2006 and 2007, Roger Federer, at the peak of his powers, was one victory from winning his first French Open and holding all four Grand Slam singles titles. Nadal shut him down in both finals.

Now it is Djokovic who is in his prime and a victory from becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four straight Grand Slam events. Again, Nadal is the roadblock and the rightful favorite.

"It's an ultimate challenge," Djokovic said Friday after beating Federer in straight sets in the semifinals. "But I believe that (Friday) was the best match of 2012 Roland Garros for me, so I've raised my game when I needed to.

"I played really well when it was the most important, so that's something that gives me confidence, obviously, before the finals."

Djokovic has beaten Nadal in the past three Grand Slam singles finals, including a 5-hour- 53-minute epic at this year's Australian Open.

"It's difficult to imagine another match of six hours," Nadal said Saturday. "But I will be there fighting for every ball. … The only thing I have to predict is that he is playing well, he is playing with confidence. And I have to play aggressive. I have to play my game."

In statistical and psychological terms, beating Nadal at Roland Garros is one of the toughest tasks in sports.

Nadal is 51-1 at the French Open, his only loss coming in the fourth round to Robin Soderling in 2009. Overall, Nadal's career winning percentage of 93 percent on clay (253-19) is the best of any leading player, including Bjorn Borg, the only other man to win six French Open titles.

And Nadal, clearly inspired by the Djokovic challenge, appears to be in dazzling form, even if his half of the draw was not as rough a neighborhood as Djokovic's half.

Nadal has not lost a set on red clay all year, his only stumble coming in quick, slippery conditions on blue clay in Madrid, where he squandered a lead against Fernando Verdasco. He already has beaten Djokovic this year on clay — once in Monte Carlo and then in Rome — as Djokovic struggled to find the same mix of acute angles and relentless consistency that had allowed him to beat Nadal seven times in a row.

If Nadal prevails, he will stand alone as a seven-time French Open men's champion, something Borg has been expecting for years. If Djokovic wins, he will, like Nadal and Federer, complete the career Grand Slam but, unlike Nadal and Federer, possess all four trophies at the same time.

Nadal loves to spoil 06/09/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 9, 2012 11:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Life sentence for man convicted in killing of brother of Bucs' Kwon Alexander


    An Alabama man who shot and killed the 17-year-old brother of Bucs linebacker Kwon Alexander in 2015 was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday, the Anniston (Ala.) Star reported.

  2. Rays journal: Black Snell continues roll in win over Cubs (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was still a game in the fifth inning when LHP Blake Snell walked the leadoff batter, then allowed a single. One swing by the Cubs' Ian Happ (22 home runs) could put a dent in the Rays' three-run lead.

    Blake Snell allows just two hits in pitching seven scoreless innings.
  3. Remember him? Numbers prove Ben Zobrist is one of greatest Rays of all time

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first foray back to the Trop by the best manager the Rays have had obscured the second return visit by arguably the second-best player in franchise history.


    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) takes the field to start the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017.
  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Wednesday's Rays-Cubs game

    The Heater

    One success story of this lost season is the emergence of LHP Blake Snell as the frontline starter the Rays projected. After a rough start and two demotions, he has been rolling, Wednesday's solid seven innings making him 4-0, 2.57 in his past eight starts.

  5. Rays at Orioles, 7:05 p.m. Thursday, Camden Yards, Baltimore

    The Heater

    Tonight: at Orioles

    7:05, Camden Yards, Baltimore

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 620-AM; 680-AM (Spanish)

    Probable pitchers

    This is a 2017 photo of Matt Andriese of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team. This image reflects the 2017 active roster as of Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017 when this image was taken. (AP Photo/David Goldman)