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Spaniards to meet in a historic men's matchup

Nadal is going for his eighth title at Roland Garros, a feat no man has accomplished, while Ferrer is in his first Grand Slam final.

June 09, 2013|Henry Chu
  • Rafael Nadal is going for his eight French Open title.
Rafael Nadal is going for his eight French Open title. (Julian Finney / Getty Images )

PARIS — Both are Spaniards in the upper echelons of the tennis world. Both are known for their indefatigable play, a willingness to chase down every shot while yanking opponents around the court.

But one already owns a record seven French Open titles, whereas the other is in the first Grand Slam final of his career.

As it was from the start, the smart money is on Rafael Nadal, the muscular Majorcan, to add to his remarkable resume Sunday by hoisting the silver trophy once more on the rust-red clay of Roland Garros. If he prevails over countryman David Ferrer, Nadal will become the only male player to have won the same Grand Slam tournament eight times.

Ferrer is a largely unheralded but consistent competitor who has had trouble breaking through on tennis' biggest stages. His record against Nadal is a disheartening 4-19.

Yet of the two men, he has enjoyed the easier progress to the final, sailing serenely past some tricky opponents in his six matches without the loss of a set, a statistic more characteristic of Nadal, who has lost four. Ferrer dismissed hard-hitting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the hometown hero, in their semifinal Friday in just two hours.

That could serve him well by keeping his 31-year-old legs fresh for Sunday's decider against Nadal.

"I need to play my best tennis ... to beat him. I need to play very aggressive all the match," Ferrer said. "Defeating Rafa is very difficult on any surface. It's even worse on clay."

Nadal, 27, could be wearied by his epic semifinal clash against No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, a seesaw encounter that lasted 41/2 hours and forced both men to race around the court like rabbits.

On Saturday, he pronounced himself "a little bit tired, but nothing dramatic."

"The day after a match like yesterday, always there is a little bit of scare about how you will feel if there is some new problem," he said. "Seems that was not the case. I had good feelings practicing."

Nadal complimented Ferrer on reaching his first Grand Slam final and described his compatriot as a "complete player."

"Very, very few people play to his rhythm," said Nadal. "He has everything good: good forehand, good backhand.... No mistakes on his game."

Still, Nadal remains the heavy favorite. The knee problems that knocked him off the court for several months appear to be behind him, and he has collected six titles since rejoining the tour in February, making the final of every tournament he has entered.

Nadal on clay is like a fish in water, and the French Open is his personal Atlantic. Only one other player, his great rival Roger Federer, has earned temporary custodianship of the gleaming Coupe des Mousquetaires since 2005.

In their only other matchup in a final this year, Nadal blew Ferrer off the court, 6-0, 6-2, in Acapulco. On Sunday, Ferrer will hope to forget that memory and draw on another.

"I won once when we were kids," he said. "I need to focus on the now, and I need to make the most of all my shots."

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henry.chu@latimes.com

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