Mark Wiedmer: French final for history

Mark Wiedmer: French final for history

June 10th, 2012 in Sports - Columns

Rafael Nadal of Spain throws his armband to spectators as he celebrates winning his semi final match against compatriot David Ferrer at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Friday June 8, 2012. Nadal won in three sets 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.

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I suppose world No. 1 Novak Djokovic could beat second-ranked Rafael Nadal when the two meet today in the French Open men's tennis final.

After all, Djokovic already has defeated Nadal in the last three Grand Slam finals, beginning with Wimbledon last summer. That was followed by a U.S. Open win and an epic Australian Open final triumph that went five sets and lasted five hours and 53 minutes.

So even though Nadal is 51-1 on the red clay of Roland Garros since arriving there seven years ago, and even though he's won six French Opens before this one and has yet to drop a set this year while winning 71 of 72 service games, Djokovic conceivably could prevail.

At least it looked that way until Nadal won a point in Friday's semifinal victory over David Ferrer while literally sitting on the seat of his shorts.

Read that again: won a point ... on the seat of his shorts.

OK, he didn't really win the point that way. But he kept the point alive. Drawn to the net by a Ferrer drop shot in the second set, Nadal slipped and fell yet somehow got his racket on the ball well enough to deliver a backhand dropper of his own.

The fleet Ferrer got that shot back, but by then Nadal had risen to his feet and volleyed a winning lob over his opponent.

One point later, Nadal broke his fellow Spaniard and cruised through the rest of the match.

"I really don't like to talk about perfection ... but I am very happy the way I'm playing," Nadal said afterward. "Probably today was my best match of the tournament."

Of course, Djokovic also believes he played his best match at the French during his straight-sets semifinal win over former No. 1 Roger Federer, who's been stuck on his record 16 majors since early winter of 2010, when he won the Australian Open.

With Federer now 30 going on 31, his realistic window for any more Grand Slam triumphs has faded to the same charcoal gray as his tennis attire. But since Andre Agassi was 32 when he won his final major, Fed might have one more big title in him.

He doesn't think Djokovic has one more consecutive major in him this weekend, however.

"I obviously pick Rafa," Federer said. "I think he's the overwhelming favorite."

The French Open has never quite been the overwhelming Grand Slam favorite that is Wimbledon, which begins later this month.

NBC has no "Breakfast at Roland Garros" ad campaign as it does for both the ladies' and the gentlemen's finals at the All-England Club. No one trumpets coffee and croissants as they do strawberries and cream for your breakfast viewing menu.

It's simply clay court tennis, which means the points can run ridiculously long, the players' socks and shoes can often turn as red as the clay and some winners have answered to names such as Sergi Bruguera and Gustavo Kuerten for the men and Iva Majoli and Anastasia Myskina for the women.

But Nadal changed all that. He not only has a tremendous chance to own outright the record he currently shares with Bjorn Borg for most French Open crowns (6), he'll also pull within four of Federer's 16 majors with a win.

Given Nadal's 18-10 overall record against Fed and his 6-2 Grand Slam finals mark (four of those at the French), some believe he already can lay claim to the greatest ever. But win a few more majors and that label would appear even harder to dispute.

Of course, Djokovic could yet have some say in that, especially if he extends his Grand Slam finals mark over Rafa to 4-1, which would mean he'd currently own all four majors titles at the same time, something that hasn't been done since Rod Laver 43 years ago.

Purists will no doubt point to the fact that Laver did it in the same calendar year, but, hey, we dumb down everything else these days, so why not a tennis slam?

But that's another rant for another day.

For this day -- assuming neither Djokovic nor Nadal pulls an I'll Have Another and scratches before this morning's final -- each will attempt to alter further the record books more than becoming the first men to meet in four straight Slam finals.

"I have this golden opportunity to make history," Djokovic said. "Won't be easy, that's for sure."

Given that Nadal has never lost a French Open final, that's for certain.