sport

Nadal targets ninth crown

Rafael Nadal will bid for an unprecedented ninth French Open title when he takes on old nemesis Novak Djokovic in a hotly-anticipated final on Sunday.

 

The world No 1 will also be aiming to lift the Musketeers' Cup for a record fifth consecutive year and take his Roland Garros record to 67 wins and just one defeat.

 

Nadal has won 33 matches in a row on these courts, but this could be Djokovic's best opportunity to win the only major title missing from his collection.

 

Victory would hand the 28-year-old Nadal a 14th Grand Slam title, just three behind the record of 17 held by Roger Federer who is nearly five years older.

 

Djokovic, who has six majors to his name, needs a Roland Garros trophy to become just the eighth man in history to have won all four Grand Slam events.

 

He also has the advantage of having defeated Nadal in their last four meetings, including on clay in the Rome Masters final last month.

 

However, the momentum appears to be with Nadal who allowed Wimbledon champion Andy Murray just six games in a brutal semi-final demolition on Friday.

 

"It's nothing new for Novak to be in the final here. He has the motivation to win Roland Garros for the first time for sure," said Nadal who has won their last three Grand Slam meetings and all four of their previous encounters at Roland Garros.

 

"But at the same time, he has the pressure to win for the first time."

 

Djokovic was defeated by Nadal in the 2012 final but came desperately close to beating him in the semi-finals in 2013 when he led 4-2 in the final set.

 

The 27-year-old Serb, who is playing in his 13th Grand Slam final compared to Nadal's 20th, believes the key to victory is to take the Spaniard out of his comfort zone on the Philippe Chatrier court where he has only lost once, a fourth round exit to Robin Soderling in 2009.

 

"It's a very wide and very big court. He likes to have that visual effect, as well, because it appears that he gets every ball back," said Djokovic.

 

"He feels more comfortable when he plays on the bigger court. That's one of the reasons why he's so successful here.

 

"But we played some really close and good matches, good quality matches the last two years here, especially the one last year serving at 4-3 in the fifth set to go 5-3. It was a very close one.

 

"And knowing that I was that close to win against him the past two years gives me that reason to believe that I can make it this time. He's not unbeatable."

 

 

The pair will clash for a 42nd time on Sunday with the rivalry stretching back to 2006, Nadal leading the career head-to-head 22-19.

 

Their first meeting was in the quarter-finals at the French Open when Djokovic retired with back trouble.

 

Since then they have fought out a series of classic battles, most notably the 2012 Australian Open final which lasted almost six hours.

 

That match won by Djokovic was played under the Melbourne floodlights whereas Sunday's final is expected to be greeted by bright sunshine and temperatures pushing towards the 30-degree mark.

 

Nadal will be happy with the weather forecast as conditions will favour the Spaniard.

 

 

"For me it is much better when the weather is like today. My ball creates more topspin. The ball goes quicker in the air, and with my forehand I am able to create more with less," said Nadal, who has a career 13-4 winning record on clay over Djokovic.

 

Since winning his first title at S opot in 2004, Nadal has suffered just 15 defeats on clay but three have come have come this year, the most recent of which was to Djokovic in Rome, while compatriots Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer also claimed surprise wins.

 

"The win in Rome definitely gives me confidence and hopefully self-belief," said Djokovic.

 

"On the other hand, the physical challenge that we present to each other is a very important factor in our matches. I know that I'm going to be facing a player who plays every point like a match point.

 

"He's a great fighter, and I know that it's going to be a physically very demanding match. But I'm ready for it."