With History on the Line, Djokovic Plays Nadal for French Title

Novak Djokovic plays Rafael Nadal in the men’s final of the French Open, each with a shot at making tennis history.

Djokovic, the top seed, defeated third-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 at Roland Garros in Paris two days ago to reach his first French Open title match. The right-hander from Serbia is now one win away from becoming the first man in 43 years to win four Grand Slam titles in a row.

Today’s men’s final is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. local time in Paris, where rain is forecast in the afternoon and evening. Unlike the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the French Open doesn’t have a court with a roof yet. A retractable roof and lights will be built at its main stadium by 2017.

In Djokovic’s way stands Nadal, the second seed, who advanced to his seventh final in eight years by beating fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Nadal, 26, who is trying to win a men’s record seventh title at Roland Garros, has reached the title match while having dropped only 35 games, the fewest since Sweden’s Bjorn Borg dropped 31 games in the first six matches in 1980. Nadal tied Borg with his sixth French Open title last year.

“He always plays his best here in Roland Garros, and so I expect to do that as well on Sunday,” Djokovic told reporters. “I know that I have to be consistently playing well on very high level in order to win best-of-five against Nadal here. It’s the ultimate challenge.”

First for Djokovic

Djokovic, 25, who had never reached the final in Paris before this year, is trying to become the first man since Australia’s Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at the same time. Djokovic almost was knocked out in the quarterfinals, saving four match points against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France. He came back from two sets down in the fourth round against Andreas Seppi of Italy.

Yesterday’s women’s final was won by second-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia, who beat Sara Errani, the 21st seed from Italy, 6-3, 6-2. At the age of 25, Sharapova has now completed the career Grand Slam of all four majors. She won Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, the U.S. Open in 2006 and the Australian Open in

2008. Errani won the women’s doubles with Italian partner Roberta Vinci two days ago.

Nadal’s only defeat at Roland Garros was in 2009, when he was beaten in the fourth round by Robin Soderling as he struggled with knee tendinitis. Soderling of Sweden has been off the tour the past 10 months with energy-sapping mononucleosis.

Federer’s Choice

Djokovic has had the upper hand at majors for the past year, beating Nadal in the championship matches at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open and taking the Spaniard’s No. 1 ranking.

This season on clay in Europe, Nadal ended a seven-match losing streak against Djokovic by beating him in Monte Carlo and then Rome.

“I won in Rome and Monte Carlo because my tennis was better against Djokovic,” Nadal said. “The fact that I’ve defeated Djokovic, that’s true, gave me more confidence.”

Federer, who won the French Open title in 2009 by defeating Soderling, said Nadal is the man to beat.

“I obviously pick Rafa,” said Federer, who has lost four finals against Nadal in Paris. “I think he’s the overwhelming favorite.”

Federer, the winner of a men’s record 16 Grand Slam singles titles, said the pressure will be on Djokovic.

“I was in the same situation twice, for the Grand Slam, the four in a row,” the Swiss said. “But Rafa has won six times here. Of course it would be great to win for a seventh time. But for Novak, he’s never won the tournament, so who knows? Maybe luck will be on his side again. Novak therefore will have more pressure.”

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