espn

Djokovic, Nadal to battle for No. 1

PARIS -- Rafael Nadal is going for No. 9 at the French Open, and the only man who can stop him is Novak Djokovic.

Nadal is already a record eight-time champion with a 65-1 career record at Roland Garros. One more victory on the red clay would make him the first man to win five in a row and give him his 14th Grand Slam title -- a tie in second place with Pete Sampras.

The top-seeded Spaniard reached the final by beating Wimbledon champion Andy Murray 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 Friday on Court Philippe Chatrier, the stadium Nadal calls his favorite place to play. Djokovic defeated Ernests Gulbis 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the first semifinal.

Nadal has beaten Djokovic at the French Open in all five of their meetings, starting with a quarterfinal victory in 2006. They also met in the semifinals in 2007, '08 and '13, and in the final in 2012.

The second-seeded Djokovic, however, has beaten Nadal the past four times they have played, including on clay in the final in Rome last month.

"I'm going to try to be aggressive because that is the only way I can win against him," Djokovic said. "I know that, of course, this is the court he's most dominant on. He has only lost one time in his career. This is where he plays his best."

The winner on Sunday also will be ranked No. 1 on Monday. Nadal is currently at the top but needs to extend his French Open winning streak to 35 matches to stay there.

He certainly played like the No. 1 on Friday.

Nadal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, then broke early again in the second and third sets. The Spaniard had six break points in the entire match and converted each one.

Murray, meanwhile, couldn't even manage to earn a break point.

Besides his eight titles at the French Open, Nadal has also won twice at Wimbledon, twice at the U.S. Open and once at the Australian Open. Sampras won 14 major titles in his career but never the French Open. The record holder is Roger Federer with 17 Grand Slam titles. He won his 14th in Paris in 2009, the only French Open in which Nadal lost a match.

On the first sunny day of this year's tournament, the semifinals started with Djokovic and Gulbis on Chatrier.

Djokovic was able to control the pace of the match while letting Gulbis' unforced errors mount. The powerful Latvian, who was playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal, finished with 44 errors.

Djokovic, a six-time major champion who needs to win the title at the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam, was first to get into trouble in the first semifinal. But he saved two break points and held to 2-2 in the opening set.

A few minutes later, he was ahead for good. Djokovic needed three attempts to earn his first break of the match, and he finally got it when Gulbis sent one of his many forehands long.

It was also in that game that Gulbis had his first of five double faults. His second double came in the final game of the set, when Djokovic broke again. And his third came when trailing Djokovic 4-3 in the second, when the Serb broke yet again.

Gulbis fared better in the third set. He again had two break points while leading 3-2 but again failed to win the game. However, he didn't waste his chance two games later, breaking Djokovic to take a 5-3 lead before serving out the set with his 11th ace.

The two traded breaks early in the fourth set, and Djokovic broke again to lead 5-3 when Gulbis, again double-faulting once in the game, sent a backhand long.

Djokovic won the last game at love.

"It was a struggle out there," Gulbis said. "I felt maybe throughout the match I hit five really clean shots, from either side, backhand or forehand. Even serve."

After nearly two weeks of overcast skies and cool temperatures, the sun was shining on center court and Djokovic and Gulbis were more interested in staying cool than staying warm.

Both players used ice wrapped in towels around their necks, like players often do at the sweltering Australian Open, as the temperature reached 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday.

Related Video
Digital Serve: Djokovic The Favorite?
Digital Serve: Djokovic The Favorite?
Chris Fowler and Patrick McEnroe recap Novak Djokovic's win over Ernests Gulbis and Rafael Nadal's straight-set victory over Andy Murray. Then they look ahead to the men's French Open championship.

Djoker Into Final
Djoker Into Final
Chris Fowler and Patrick McEnroe discuss Novak Djokovic's 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over Ernests Gulbis in the semifinals of the French Open.

60-Second Slice: French Open Day 13
60-Second Slice: French Open Day 13
Cary Chow recaps a big Day 13 in sunny Paris in just 60 seconds, including a Novak Djokovic racket smash, a very popular color combination and a men's final that is not a joke.

Five Things We Learned: Day 13
Five Things We Learned: Day 13
Greg Garber and Jim Caple break down the five things they learned from Day 13 of the French Open.
Related Topics:
sports espn roland garros novak djokovic french open ernests gulbis pete sampras roger federer grand slam clay court rafael nadal tennis andy murray tomas berdych
(Copyright ©2014 ESPN Internet Ventures.)

Load Comments