Roger Federer insists he can't wait to confront a rejuvenated Rafael Nadal, written off as an injury-cursed, spent-force earlier this year, at the French Open which starts today.
World No. 1 Federer, the holder of a record 16 majors, completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2009 with a first Paris title. But Nadal, who had won four straight French Opens, had lost in the fourth round, his crumbling knees conspiring with Robin Soderling's match of a lifetime to sensationally engineer a first Roland Garros defeat.
Federer, defeated by his great Spanish rival in the 2006, 2007 and 2008 finals, stormed into the vacuum to take the crown.
'It's one of the great rivalries in sports right now, and obviously in our game the biggest one,' said Federer of his career struggle with Nadal.
'He's got the better record against me, so every time I play him I try to improve on it. You never know. It could be in a couple weeks I play him again.'
Nadal holds a 14-7 lead in meetings with Federer, having won six of the last seven match-ups. The Spaniard has claimed 10 of their 12 claycourt meetings, including reclaiming his Madrid Masters title last week.
But 28-year-old Federer insists he is neither concerned by Nadal's record nor his own patchy claycourt form.
The 23-year-old Nadal's form, though, has been breathtaking. His win in Madrid gave him a record 18th Masters title, surpassing the previous mark of Andre Agassi, and making him the first man to win all three Masters claycourt events (Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid) in the same year.
His form has also allowed him to regain the No. 2 spot, ensuring the only way he and Federer can meet in Paris is in the final.
Nadal is desperate to prove he is once again a genuine Grand Slam force, having been unable to defend his Wimbledon title last year while limping out of Australian Open.
But he refuses to be drawn into thinking about another title match-up with Federer. 'For sure this year on clay I played very well, so that's important for the confidence,' he said. 'I won three very important titles for me after being without a title win for 11 months. It was a hard time with the injuries and I worked a lot to be back and to win again.'
Between them, Federer and Nadal have won 18 of the last 20 Grand Slam events. This statistic, coupled with an injury-depleted chasing pack, should guarantee a fourth Federer-Nadal final in five years.