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Individual milestones add drama to titanic clash

sports Updated: Jun 10, 2012 01:31 IST
Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic had guaranteed that history would be made at this French Open, with their latest Grand Slam final meeting now scheduled as scripted. Tennis record books will be rewritten Sunday, one way or another, by one of two players who spent the last two weeks on a clay-court collision course.

In the end, Nadal will hoist his record seventh Roland Garros championship trophy. Or Djokovic will seize his fourth consecutive major title, the first man in 43 years to do so.

Either way, an age as golden as any in men's tennis will continue to unfold. Same as it did for their nearly six-hour marathon in the Australian Open final, a contest Djokovic called his longest ever and most exciting. Same as it did Friday. Nadal slapped around a hapless David Ferrer, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, and Djokovic toppled a shaky but game Roger Federer, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3. If the tournament itself had unfolded in unexpected ways, the two left standing surprised no one.

Nadal at his best
"This is the beauty of today's tennis, in this moment," Djokovic said. Few dared to pick against Nadal. Even Djokovic listed the facts against him - Nadal's supremacy on clay courts, his clay record against Djokovic.

Here's why: Nadal did not beat Ferrer so much as he bludgeoned him, the victory lopsided and straightforward. Nadal so dominated all three sets, from the opening serve to the final forehand winner, that it was easy to forget that Ferrer entered their semifinal as the world's sixth-ranked player.

Thus continued his latest march into a French Open final, now something of a certainty here each June. Should Nadal triumph Sunday, he would have one more title here than Bjorn Borg, the other candidate for best clay-court player ever.

Yet to lose a set
Nadal has yet to lose a set in this tournament. Nicolas Almagro managed a tiebreaker in the first set of their quarterfinal. Almagro said he played his best tennis in that match - and he still lost in straight sets.

Only once in his career has Nadal lost at Roland Garros, and he never seemed in danger of adding to that total.

As Nadal cruised, Djokovic often appeared unsteady, as if he felt the pressure of history upon him. He required five sets to dispatch Andreas Seppi in the fourth round and five more against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Against Federer, he needed no such dramatics.

Major achievement
Djokovic stands one victory from accomplishing something neither Nadal nor Federer ever has, and it seems as if those two break one record or another every week. One win from having won all four majors in row, if not in the same season.

"There's obviously nothing better than having the chance to do something that hasn't been done in 43 years," John McEnroe, the Hall of Fame player, said this week. "It's not technically the Grand Slam, but I'd come up with some statue or something, and I'd be parading it around my house for the rest of my life."

Of course, there is the small matter of Nadal, as dominant on clay as any player on any surface ever. The final Sunday will be special, for Nadal, or for Djokovic, for one of whom history is assured.