French history beckons for Rafael Nadal

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.

Updated: May 25, 2012 12:06 IST
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Paris: 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, members-only 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 supreme 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 successive 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 yet to make the final.

Three times the 25-year-old has been a semi-finalist, losing to Nadal in 2007 and 2008 before seeing his remarkable 43-match winning run ended by Federer at the last-four stage in 2011.

But Djokovic is no claycourt under-performer -- in 2011, he reeled off wins in Belgrade, Madrid and Rome heading into Paris.

He is also aware that Rod Laver, back in 1969, was the last man to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.

"I cannot say I'm not thinking about it," said the Serb. "There is the possibility to win four in a row. I want to deliver my best game. I'm feeling good on the court."

Despite his 31st birthday fast approaching, and with the last of his 16 Grand Slam titles won at the 2010 Australian Open, there is little indication of Federer losing his powers.

The Swiss world number three was the man to benefit when Nadal slumped to his stunning 2009 loss in Paris, taking his first and only French Open title.

This will be his 14th French Open appearance. After making his debut in 1999, it was 2006 when he reached his first final -- the first of three successive title match defeats to Nadal.

After ending Djokovic's winning run in the semi-finals last year, he fell to a fourth final defeat to his great Spanish rival.

The Swiss took the Madrid claycourt title -- one of four trophies this year -- and cruised through the Rome Masters until he ran into Djokovic in the semi-finals.

"There are exciting times ahead for me. I'm winning so many events and playing so well. I believe that I can win the slams," said Federer.

"I know the difficulty of the French, the focus will be on Novak (Djokovic) who is going for four slams in a row and on Rafa (Nadal) because he's the defending champion."

World number four Andy Murray heads into the French Open, where he lost to Nadal in last year's semi-final, with serious question marks over his fitness after he revealed that he has been carrying a back injury since December.

His claycourt season has reflected his physical frailities -- quarter-final exits in Monte Carlo and Barcelona followed by a third round loss in Rome.

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  • Tennis
  • Mahesh Bhupathi
  • Jie Zheng
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
  • Andy Murray
  • Na Li
  • Rafael Nadal
  • Roger Federer
  • David Ferrer
  • Novak Djokovic
  • Bernard Tomic
  • Stanislas Wawrinka
  • French Open 2012

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