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Nadal and Djokovic battle for a place in French Open history

Text by Peter BERLIN

Latest update : 2014-06-08

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic renew their battle for supremacy in men's tennis when they meet in the final of the French Open this afternoon.

With the decline of Roger Federer, they have become the two dominant players in the world game and a whole host of records beckon for the winner.

The clay of Roland Garros is where Nadal reigns supreme. The Spaniard has won eight French Open singles titles, more than anyone else. Victory today would bring him level with Henri Cochet, one of the musketeers for whom Roland Garros was built, for most overall titles by a man. The Frenchman won five doubles titles and four singles titles, to claim most titles here by a man.

Victory would also bring Nadal a fifth consecutive French title, breaking a tie with Bjorn Borg, who won four straight between 1978 and 1981. It would also be Nadal's 14th Grand Slam title, bringing him level with Pete Sampras in second, behind Federer, on the all-time list. Nadal can also become the first man to win a slam title in 10 consecutive seasons.

If Djokovic can break Nadal's hold on the trophy, he would become just the seventh man to win all four majors, a club that already includes the Spaniard. It would be the Serb's seventh Grand Slam singles title, lifting him into a tie for 13th with the likes of John McEnroe and Cochet and another musketeer, René Lacoste.

And whoever wins today will be No. 1 in the rankings on Monday.

This will be their 42nd meeting, the most matches between any two men in the Open era, which began in 1968.

It will also their 12th Grand Slam meeting, another record.

Nadal, a year older at 28, holds a 22-19 edge in matches with Djokovic. That includes an 8-3 advantage at Slams and a 5-0 record at the French Open. But Djokovic won their last four matches, including a precious victory on clay in the final at Rome last month.

Their coaches say that match doesn't matter.

“You know Rafa. He is mentally strong. He (forgot about) that match,” Marian Vajda, who works with Djokovic, told The Associated Press.

Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach said: “It’s true that Novak beat Rafael in Rome, but it’s true that Rafael has won many matches here in this court."

Stamina, strength and athleticism

Nadal looked fragile once again early in this tournament and was troubled by his back in a third-round match against Leonardo Mayer. But he still won in straight sets. The Spaniard, whose stamina, strength and athleticism are among his great assets, has looked better and better physically as the tournament has progressed.

Djokovic, on the other hand, was fading in the final set of his semifinal victory over Ernests Gulbis on Friday, the first warm day this year. Asked what would have happened if the match had gone to a fifth set, he answered: "I’m not going to talk about it."

The forecast is for another warm day, with temperatures expected to reach 28 Celsius. It will also be humid with a chance of showers. If Djokovic is feeling drained, that won't suit him.

Nadal, on the other hand, likes the clay well heated.

"My ball creates more topspin," he said. "The ball goes quicker in the air, and with my forehand I am able to create more with less."

For his part, Djokovic plans to attack.

"I'm going to try to be aggressive, because that is the only way I can win against him," he 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.

"But we played some really close and good quality matches the last two years here, and knowing that I was that close to win against him gives me that reason to believe that I can make it this time."

Last year Djokovic came agonisingly close against Nadal in the semifinals.He was up a break in the fifth set and serving at 4-3, 40-all, when he hit a volleyed winner, but his momentum carried into the net . Djokovic argued that his shot already had cleared passed Nadal, but the umpire disagreed. Nadal won the point and went on to win the match..

After a men's tournament in which the two men have crushed all opposition, today's encounter offers the potential for another epic between the two best male players in the world.

For both, history beckons.

Follow the match on France 24's liveblog, beginning at 14:45 Paris time.

Date created : 2014-06-08

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