Djokovic, Nadal in day of destiny
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal square off in a record fourth successive Grand Slam final today with the French Open title and a place in tennis folklore at stake.
A win for Djokovic, playing in his first Roland Garros final, will make him only the third man in history – and first in 43 years – to hold all four majors at the same time.
Victory for Nadal will mean becoming the first man to win seven French Opens, breaking a tie for six he currently holds with Swedish legend Bjorn Borg.
Nadal, with a staggering Roland Garros career record of 51 wins and just one defeat, is the overwhelming favourite. He hasn’t dropped a set and has lost serve just once.
Furthermore, Nadal came into Paris having secured claycourt titles in Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome, beating Djokovic in the finals of the last two in straight sets.
But Djokovic has won all of the last three Grand Slam title matches they have played – at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2011, and this year’s epic Australian Open which, at five hours 53 minutes, was the longest ever men’s final.
Djokovic is happy to be going in as underdog having lost all three matches he has played against the Spaniard in Paris in 2006, 2007 and 2008, defeats handed out without even the consolation of one set in the Serb’s possession.
“It’s the ultimate challenge. He won the last two encounters we had on clay in Monte Carlo and Rome,” said Djokovic.
“But I won against him on clay last year two times, back-to-back in eight days, and that’s something that is in the back of my mind.”
Djokovic, looking to emulate Don Budge (1938) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) by possessing all the majors, says he has learned from losing his first nine claycourt meetings with Nadal.
He also won just four of the pair’s first 18 matches on all surfaces while Roger Federer beat him seven times in their opening nine meetings.
“I used to have a lot of doubts if I can really overcome the big challenge of the two strongest players in our sport,” he said.
“I’ve matured. I got stronger. It’s because of them. They made me a better player.”
Nadal, looking to capture an 11th major, believes his wins over Djokovic in Monte Carlo and Rome could be beneficial.
“I won in Rome and Monte Carlo because my tennis was better. Surely, beating him gave me more confidence,” said Nadal.