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French Open 2014: Will Nadal once again deny Djokovic?

Rafael Nadal celebrates his eighth French Open title
by Leigh Walsh
Sunday 8 June 2014

Wimbledon.com previews the men's singles final at the 2014 French Open at Roland Garros...

Rafael Nadal told l’Equipe this week he cried when Roger Federer defeated Robin Soderling to clinch his first and only Roland Garros title.

But rather than shed tears because 2009 was the only year in the last decade he himself failed to hold aloft the Coupe des Mousquetaires, Nadal welled up out of happiness for his long time foe and friend. “He deserved to win all four Grand Slams,” said the Spaniard.  

When Nadal meets Novak Djokovic for the 42nd time in Sunday’s French Open final with both the No.1 ranking and history on the line, the Serb won’t be afforded the same sentiment.

Chasing History

Federer became the sixth player to clinch the career Grand Slam when he ended his wait for a coveted crown in Paris five years ago, joining Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi at tennis’ top table.

They made room for Nadal when he won the US Open in 2010. Today, Djokovic will look to take his seat among the greats as he goes in search of the last major gong missing from his trophy cabinet.

“Expectations are there,” said Djokovic. “I'm trying to channel this energy into the right direction and not get carried away too much by the stress of the occasion. So it is the final. It is the finals of a Grand Slam that I never won. I'm going to have the ultimate challenge on clay across the net. But I have to believe and I have to try to win it.”

Beating Nadal at Roland Garros is not just tennis’ biggest challenge, it’s one of the biggest obstacles in sport. Up there with beating Usain Bolt in 100m at the Olympics or Floyd Mayweather in a ring in Las Vegas.

Nadal is Paris’ very own Great Wall. The eight-time champion has been conquered just once since winning his maiden title 10 years ago, losing to Soderling in 2009. Since then he has put together 34 wins in succession on the Parisian clay – the longest streak in tournament history – and improved his win-loss record to 65-1. In best-of-five matches on dirt, he’s a remarkable 88-1.

While others will focus on those 88 wins, Djokovic has his attentions zoned in on the one defeat.

“He's not unbeatable,” said the world No.2, who is bidding for his seventh Grand Slam title. “You know, winning against him last couple of matches in the finals, big events, definitely gives me confidence that I can do it again." 

Djokovic is on a four-match winning streak against Nadal, who leads their overall head-to-head 22-19. Their most recent meeting came in the final of Rome when the Serb overcame a one-set deficit to win 6-3 in the third.

On that day, Djokovic took the game to Nadal. The energy-sapping, attritional exchanges that have defined their rivalry were, for the most part, absent. Instead, it was a match of first-strike tennis with the Serb looking to pull the trigger early and frequently. The game plan worked and as Djokovic said in his pre-match press conference, the tactics won’t change much when they clash again on Sunday.

That defeat was Nadal’s third on clay this year. He had never entered the season’s second Slam with so many defeats on his favourite surface.

But Nadal over five sets at Roland Garros poses different questions. And a lone Swede still remains the only player to have solved the complex puzzle.

“At the moment [Novak] has good momentum, and I hope I can put an end to that. I'm working on this,” said Nadal, who will join Pete Sampras in second place on the all-time majors list with 14 if he wins today.

“But in any case, this is what makes the beauty of this sport. We have wonderful moments, and others that are not all that good when we need to recover, to rest, and relax. My feeling is I am doing the things better and I am playing better again, so that's a positive feeling for me.”

Whatever the outcome, tears will likely be shed when the final ball is struck on Sunday evening. But unlike 2009, they won’t be shed for a rival.  

Follow the French Open live on ITV and at rolandgarros.com

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