Paris: Rafael Nadal is going for No. 9 at the French Open, and the only man that can stop him is Novak Djokovic. Nadal is already a record eight-time champion with a lifetime 65-1 record at Roland Garros. One more victory on the red clay will make him the first man to win five in a row and give him his 14th Grand Slam title — tied in second place with Pete Sampras.
The top-seeded Spaniard reached the final by beating Wimbledon champion Andy Murray 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 on Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier, the stadium Nadal calls his favourite place to play. Djokovic defeated Ernests Gulbis 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the first semi-final.
Nadal has beaten Djokovic at the French Open in all five of their meetings, starting with a quarter final victory in 2006. They also met in the semi-finals in 2007, ’08 and ’13, and in the final in 2012.
“(It’s) nothing new for him to be in the final. He has the motivation to win at Roland Garros for the first time for sure,” Nadal said of Djokovic. “But at the same time, he has the pressure to win for the first time. I have the pressure that I want to win and the motivation that I want to win the ninth.”
The second-seeded Djokovic, however, has beaten Nadal the last four times they have played, including on clay in the final in Rome last month.
“I’m going to try to be aggressive, because that is the only way I can win against him,” Djokovic said. “I know that, of course, this is the court he’s most dominant on. He has only lost one time in his career. This is where he plays his best.”
The winner on Sunday will also be ranked No. 1 on Monday. Nadal is currently at the top, but needs to extend his French Open winning streak to 35 matches to stay there.
He certainly played like the No. 1 on Friday.
Nadal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, then broke early again in the second and third sets. The Spaniard had six break points in the entire match, and converted each one.
Murray, meanwhile, couldn’t even manage to earn a single break point.
“It was a tough day for me. It was a bad, bad day,” said Murray, who will now turn his attention to defending his Wimbledon title. “I’ll need to bounce back quickly from it, because I’m not particularly happy with the way I played today.”
Besides his eight titles at the French Open, Nadal has also won twice at Wimbledon, twice at the US Open and once at the Australian Open. Sampras won 14 major titles in his career, but never the French Open. The record holder is Roger Federer with 17 Grand Slam titles. He won his 14th in Paris in 2009, the only French Open in which Nadal lost a match.
On the first sunny day of this year’s tournament, the semi-finals started with Djokovic and Gulbis on Chatrier.
Djokovic was able to control the pace of the match while letting Gulbis’s unforced errors mount. The powerful Latvian, who was playing in his first Grand Slam semi-final, finished with 44 errors.
Djokovic, a six-time major champion who needs to win the title at the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, was first to get into trouble in the first semi-final. But he managed to save two break points and hold to 2-2 in the opening set.
A few minutes later, he was ahead for good. Djokovic needed three attempts to earn his first break of the match, and he finally got it when Gulbis sent one of his many forehands long.
It was also in that game that Gulbis had his first of five double-faults. His second double came in the final game of the set, when Djokovic broke again. And his third came when trailing Djokovic 4-3 in the second, when the Serb broke yet again.
Gulbis fared better in the third set. He again had two break points while leading 3-2, but again failed to win the game. However, he didn’t waste his chance two games later, breaking Djokovic to take a 5-3 lead before serving out the set with his 11th ace.
The two traded breaks early in the fourth set, and Djokovic broke again to lead 5-3 when Gulbis, again double-faulting once in the game, sent a backhand long. Djokovic won the last game at love.
“It was a struggle out there,” Gulbis said. “I felt maybe throughout the match I hit five really clean shots, from either side, backhand or forehand. Even serve.”
After nearly two weeks of overcast skies and cool temperatures, the sun was shining on center court and Djokovic and Gulbis were more interested in staying cool than staying warm as the temperature reached 28 degrees C.