PARIS — Here comes the French Open final everyone expected and, except for other players, wanted:
No. 1 Novak Djokovic, one victory from becoming the first man in 43 years to win four consecutive major championships, against No. 2 Rafael Nadal, one victory from becoming the only man to win seven titles at Roland Garros.
How's that for high stakes?
Djokovic is undefeated in his past 27 Grand Slam matches, which includes beating Nadal in the finals at Wimbledon in July, the U.S. Open in September, and the Australian Open in January. Nadal has won 51 of 52 career matches at the French Open; only he and Bjorn Borg have won the clay-court tournament six times.
Never before have the same two men met in four Grand Slam finals in a row, so it's apt that no matter who wins Sunday, his achievement will be monumental.
"I have this golden opportunity to make history. This motivates me. It really inspires me. I'm really grateful to be in this position, obviously," said the 25-year-old Djokovic, who owns five Grand Slam titles to Nadal's 10. "And look, I'll try to prepare for that match and get my hands on that trophy, if I can."
Won't be easy, that's for sure.
Both Djokovic and Nadal breezed through their semifinals Friday. If this stage of a Grand Slam tournament is supposed to provide a challenge, it did not — which probably isn't all that stunning in Nadal's case, but was rather striking when you consider Djokovic faced 16-time major champion Roger Federer and won 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 in a match that wasn't really that close.
"His mental state and preparation for this match was excellent," said Djokovic's coach, Marian Vadja, "and this has to happen against Rafa."
Nadal found himself flying by the seat of his pants — OK, white shorts — on one point against No. 6 David Ferrer, somehow winning the exchange despite falling on his rump. Otherwise, he was completely in control en route to a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
"I'm surprised," said Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and coach, "because we were expecting a very difficult match against one of the best players in the world."
Make no mistake: Ferrer is a formidable opponent, not someone who got hot for a few weeks to sneak into the semifinals.
He was playing in his third Grand Slam semifinal. He already won two clay-court titles this year. And it was Ferrer who upset Nadal in the 2011 Australian Open quarterfinals, stopping his bid for a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title — the milestone Djokovic now seeks.
Nadal won all 15 sets he's played this year at Roland Garros, losing only 35 games, the lowest total for anyone reaching a major final since Borg lost 31 on his way to winning the 1980 French Open.
Nadal has won 71 of 72 service games, saving 18 of 19 break points — pretty close to perfect.
"I really don't like to talk about perfection, because that, my opinion, doesn't exist. You can always play better," said the 26-year-old Nadal, whose only loss at the French Open came against Robin Soderling in 2009. "But, sure, I am very happy the way that I am playing. Probably today was my best match of the tournament."
With Ferrer serving at 1-1, 30-all in the second set, Nadal produced a masterpiece, turning a gaffe into a highlight.
During a point that lasted more than 30 shots, Nadal's feet slipped out from under him as he sprinted toward the net. On the slow-motion replay, it's easy to see that his eyes never left the ball, even as he crashed to the court. Suddenly sitting — yes, plopped on his backside, right there in the middle of the most important clay-court stadium in the world — Nadal raised his left arm to slice a backhand drop shot that prolonged the point and drew Ferrer forward.
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