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Federer and Nadal dream of golden age

The top two believe they are leading tennis into a new era with French Open win crucial in swinging the balance of power in their direction.

india Updated: May 27, 2006 14:43 IST

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal believe they are about to lead tennis into a new golden age with French Open victory crucial in swinging the balance of power in their direction.

Federer goes into Roland Garros hoping to become the first man since Rod Laver 37 years ago to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

But Nadal, the teenage Mallorcan muscleman, holds all the cards.

He is the defending champion having triumphed on his debut year last season and is the Swiss superstar's nemesis having won five of the pair's six career meetings.

They include all of Federer's three defeats in 2006 including the finals of the clay court Monte Carlo and Rome Masters events.

In the process, Nadal has pulled level with Guillermo Vilas's record of 53 successive wins on clay set back in 1977.

But Federer, who squandered two match points against Nadal in their five-hour final marathon in Rome, isn't giving up.

"I have to play him more often to figure him out and that is what I have been doing. I think I am getting closer and closer," said Federer who has never been at his most comfortable here losing three times in the first round before losing to Nadal in the semi-finals last year.

"I think we are getting close to having a rivalry but we still haven't played enough yet. Sometimes a rivalry needs a win, loss, win, loss. That's not been happening, he's been winning the last few," he said.

"But I think it's heading in a very nice direction for tennis to have a player like him on tour. It's an exciting time," he added.

Nadal has never lost to Federer on clay, but the 19-year-old still believes the Swiss is the better player.

"I think he's a great champion and he has overcome many things, tougher things," said Nadal.

"He has won seven Grand Slams, and he been in so many finals. He's definitely at the moment better than any other player."

But Nadal knows he has Federer worried.

In the Rome final, Federer was involved in a fiery exchange with his opponent's coach, Toni Nadal.

"What happens on the court stays on the court," said Nadal on Friday.

"I don't have to say anymore about it. But Roger will always have a chance to beat me. I could lose any time against him."

Federer will face French veteran Arnaud Clement in the opening round of this year's tournament, which gets underway on Sunday with his first tricky assignment possibly coming in the third round where he could face Olympic champion Nicolas Massu of Chile.

Nadal will face Sweden's Robin Soderling in the first round where victory would hand him a record 54th successive triumph on clay.

Australia's former world number one Lleyton Hewitt and big-hitting Chilean Fernando Gonzalez, the ninth seed, are also in Nadal's section of the draw. Gonzalez takes on Russia's former world number one Marat Safin in the first round.

French Open organisers have opted for a Sunday start to maximise TV viewing figures and they need Federer and Nadal to shine with the demands of the tour having taken their toll on some of the game's big names.

Former champions Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerten are missing through injury as is 2004 runner-up Guillermo Coria.

Safin, Hewitt and Andy Roddick arrive in Paris under a cloud.

Safin, a semi-finalist here in 2002 and who took Federer's Australian Open title in 2005, missed the second half of last season and has played just 18 matches in 2006, seeing his world ranking slump to 52.

Hewitt, who missed the entire clay court season in 2005 and was off the tour for two months this year with a foot injury, played his first clay court match in two years in Austria on Monday and was dumped out at the first round stage by Brazil's world number 89 Marcos Daniel.

The 25-year-old Australian compounded his problems by twisting his ankle in the final set tiebreak and collapsing to the ground.

Roddick is also carrying an ankle injury.

Argentina's David Nalbandian is one of a batch of players who could just nudge the Federer-Nadal juggernaut off course.

The Swiss in the Rome Masters semi-finals in a last set tiebreak only beat the 24-year-old, who picked up the Estoril clay court title this year.

The world number three is the only player, apart from Nadal, to boast a winning career record against Federer.

Gaston Gaudio, the shock winner in 2004, and Spain's Tommy Robredo, who took the Hamburg Masters title this month, could also make things awkward for the top two.