Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Federer stands in way of Nadal and Borg's record

Bjorn Borg must be getting used to seeing his Grand Slam records slip away. The Swede was at the All England Club last summer as Roger Federer matched his record of five successive Wimbledon titles and now he is at Roland Garros watching Rafael Nadal's attempt to equal his four successive French Open crowns.

The man standing in Nadal's way in tomorrow's final will once again be Roger Federer. The world's two best players meet in the final for the third year in succession after enjoying contrasting victories in yesterday's semi-finals. Nadal, who has not dropped a set here this year, crushed the Serb Novak Djokovic, who has been the world's most successful player in 2008, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6, while Federer had to overcome some uncharacteristic lapses before beating France's Gaël Monfils 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.



Federer still needs the French Open to complete his set of Grand Slam titles, but he will have to reverse most of his past form against Nadal if he is to claim his 13th major crown. Nadal has won 10 of their 16 meetings, including eight out of nine matches on clay.



Djokovic's surge up the rankings over the past year has been such that he would have replaced Nadal as the world No 2 had he beaten him. For two and a half sets that never looked a possibility. Although Djokovic made a fight of it in the latter stages of the match, Nadal had been at his magnificent best in winning the first two sets.



At times the Spaniard's court coverage was breath-taking. In the second set Djokovic constructed what looked to be a perfect rally, a cleverly angled half-court ball pushing the Spaniard several feet wide of the court on his backhand. When Djokovic drilled a follow-up forehand into the opposite corner it looked to be a certain winner, but Nadal flew across the baseline and cracked a forehand down the line with such force that the 21-year-old netted his volley.



Djokovic, who believes that Court Philippe Chatrier suits Nadal because it is the slowest court here, served poorly and made too many mistakes. The Australian Open champion, who has reached at least the semi-finals of the last five Grand Slam events, did not have a break point until the fourth game of the second set and raised his arms in mock celebration when he finally broke serve to trail 3-1 in the third.



The crowd, perhaps frustrated to see such a one-sided contest, suddenly got behind Djokovic, who responded by briefly finding the form that has seen him mount a major challenge to the supremacy of the top two players. When Nadal served for the set at 5-4 Djokovic broke again and two games later the Spaniard had to save a set point with a forehand winner. Nadal, however, played an excellent tie-break, winning the first six points before securing victory with a smash after two hours and 49 minutes.



"The first two sets, especially the second, were pretty bad for me," Djokovic said afterwards. "I wasn't finding any rhythm and was making a lot of unforced errors. Later I just decided to go for my shots. I just couldn't do anything else. He showed again that in the most important moments of matches he's very strong mentally and he showed why he's the defending champion here."



Nadal felt his tennis in the first two sets was "almost perfect". He added: "It was my best match so far. You can always play better, but it would be difficult to play better than that. I felt I was hitting the ball very well on both the forehand and the backhand. On the forehand I was changing the direction of the ball all the time and I was playing further inside the court than usual. That's difficult to do – and it's even more difficult to play like that against someone like Djokovic."



Monfils, the world No 59, had never previously gone beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament and he looked nervous at the start of the second semi-final. He also had to call for a doctor to apply drops in his right eye after only three games.



Federer threatened to make the match a procession when he broke Monfils to love in the opening game and took the first set with something to spare. However, early breaks were exchanged in the second set as Monfils grew in confidence and at 5-6 and deuce Federer played two poor points, netting a volley after failing to put away what should have been a routine winner and then shanking a forehand.



Order was restored in the third set, in which Federer broke serve three times, but he was guilty of making some simple errors and at 5-4 in the fourth set wasted two match points with ragged forehands. Two games later, however, a backhand volley secured victory after just over three hours.



Today's women's final will see the crowning of a new Grand Slam champion. Serbia's Ana Ivanovic, 20, was a beaten finalist here 12 months ago and in the Australian Open in January, while Russia's Dinara Safina, 22, had never gone beyond the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam event before this week.

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