PARIS - Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who needs a Roland Garros title to complete a career Grand Slam, will clash in Sunday’s French Open final after racking up convincing semi-final wins on Friday. World number one Nadal cruised to a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 win against Wimbledon champion and seventh seed Andy Murray to register his 65th win on the red clay of Paris against just one defeat as he moved one victory away from becoming the first man to win five successive French Opens.
Sunday will be the 28-year-old Spaniard’s 20th Grand Slam final. Djokovic, the world number two and runner-up to Nadal in the 2012 championship match, went through to his 13th major final thanks to a 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over Latvian giantkiller Ernests Gulbis Of Latvia. Nadal could wrap up a 14th Grand Slam title which would put him level at second best on the all-time list with Pete Sampras and three behind Roger Federer while Djokovic will be chasing his seventh major.
Murray failed in his bid to become the first British player to contest the French Open final since Bunny Austin 77 years ago and will now turn his attention to defending his Wimbledon crown. It was his worst loss to Nadal in nine Grand Slam match-ups between the two, surpassing the nine games he managed in the 2008 Wimbledon quarter-finals. “I think that today I played my best tennis at Roland Garros this year,” said Nadal. “After 10 years of coming here and to be back in the final for the ninth time - it’s something I never believed would happen in my life.”
Ahead of his 42nd meeting with Djokovic, he added: “He is an unbelievable opponent. He is always a big challenge and I need to play at my very best.” Nadal had dropped the first set to Murray in the semi-finals in Rome last month before winning through, but Friday was brutally one-sided in sweltering heat in Paris with the Spaniard winning almost half the points played.
Djokovic, 27, will become only the eighth man in history to complete the career Grand Slam if he wins on Sunday. He defeated Nadal in the Rome final and has won their last four encounters. However, Nadal leads 13-4 overall on clay as well as 22-19 on all surfaces. “The first two sets went well. I thought I played well, very solid, putting a lot of returns back in the court, serving at the high percentage,” said Djokovic.
“Then suddenly midway through the third set I started to feel physically fatigued a little bit, and you could feel that. You could see that both me and him, we struggled on the court.” He added: “I am always motivated to play well at Roland Garros. I need to push my body to the maximum as it’s hard to predict what will happen.” Playing in his 22nd semi-final at a major compared to a debut appearance for Gulbis, the Serb was hardly troubled in the first two sets.
But Gulbis, the 18th seed who defeated 17-time major winner Roger Federer and sixth seed Tomas Berdych to get to his first Grand Slam semi-final, rallied in the third to briefly breathe life into the contest. In the end, however, Gulbis’s 44 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 25, as well as his ability to convert just two of his seven break points proved crucial. “The difference was I’m not used to playing these kind of big matches,” said the 25-year-old from Riga. “It’s just normal I felt extra nervous and extra tense. I can take one positive side out of the match — that I could still win a third set feeling that nervous and that extra tired.”