Nadal on course to set French history
RAFAEL Nadal could become the first man to win seven Roland Garros titles, but Novak Djokovic and a rejuvenated Roger Federer are braced to slam the door shut on the Spaniard’s history-making campaign.
Ever since the early, membersonly French championships were thrown open to foreign players in 1925, no man has won the title more than six times, a feat Nadal shares with Bjorn Borg after his 2011 victory.
Widely-regarded as the most gruelling of the four majors, only one woman, Chris Evert, has achieved the magic seven.
Ten-time a Grand Slam title winner, Nadal, 25, has a remarkable CV at the French Open — six titles in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011 and a 45-1 match record. His only blip, a 2009 fourth round loss to Robin Soderling, came at a time when he was plagued by the acute knee problems which have often threatened to overwhelm him.
This season, Nadal has, once again, been surpreme on clay and will arrive in Paris boasting a 16-1 record on the surface.
After losing the marathon Australian Open final to world number one Djokovic, his seventh sucessive defeat to the Serb, Nadal has now triumphed twice on the trot against his rival.
A straight sets victory for his eighth Monte Carlo title in April gave him the early psychological edge, an advantage hammered home by his 7-5, 6-3 win in Monday’s Rome final.
Not that the ever-modest Nadal will be singing his own praises.
“I have the confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level. Hopefully I will keep playing like this,” said Nadal, whose only loss on his favourite surface in 2012 was on Madrid’s controversial blue clay.
Even Djokovic, bidding for his own slice of history as he attempts to complete a Grand Slam of all four majors — the first since 1969 — has no hesitation in proclaiming the world number two Spaniard as the favourite.
“He is always the favourite, even if I win against him seven times; he is the best player in the world on this surface,” said Djokovic, after his loss in Rome.
Roland Garros remains the only major where Djokovic has Rafael Nadal: Getting ready to achieve a new milestone. (AFP) (See also page 26) yet to make the final.