Greatest rivalry in tennis resumes

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RAFAEL NADAL
ROGER FEDERER

Don't underestimate Rafa's resolve

Garber By Greg Garber
ESPN.com
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PARIS -- I hate to rain on the parade, Kamakshi. Really, I do.

Listen, I'm the first to say I'm a big Roger Federer fan. I was secretly thrilled -- I am a journalist, after all -- to see him upset Novak Djokovic in the semifinals and end "The Streak." It was fitting, too, that Federer was the man responsible for the losses at both ends of that 43-match run.

It was a surprise and a feel-good story all at once. But … it says here: Rafael Nadal is going to beat Federer in Sunday's French Open final. Unquestionably, Rafa will win his sixth French Open title in seven years.

Here is why: 44-1.

I know, I know. Numbers can lie.

These, however, shriek the truth. Nadal is virtually unbeatable at Roland Garros, having won 44 of 45 matches here in seven appearances. That works out to a crazy winning percentage of .978. A fourth-round loss to Robin Soderling two years ago also represents Rafa's only loss in a best-of-five match on clay. Ever.

He owns this place, like Bjorn Borg did. Rafa's career journey through Paris -- considering the quality of opponents and the length of the matches -- is more than impressive, no? Federer, as great as he is, has lost here 11 times.

Oh, Kamakshi, make that an even dozen.

Please remember that Federer's only title here came when Soderling did his dirty business.

Rafa has beaten Federer in both of their matches this year, in Miami and Madrid -- and four of those five sets weren't even close. With the all-time Grand Slam singles race as a larger context, Nadal can score the 10th of his career, only six behind the leader. And it would be at Federer's expense.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating how badly Nadal wants to do that.

Momentum on Federer's side

Tandon By Kamakshi Tandon
ESPN.com
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PARIS -- Roger Federer just did what no one else has been able to do all year -- defeat Novak Djokovic. And he did it by producing some exceptional play at big moments, the kind of tennis that is also good enough to defeat Rafael Nadal.

Yes, it's Nadal, and yes, it's clay, and yes, it's Paris. The matchup is still a difficult one for Federer with his one-handed backhand against Nadal's huge top spin forehand and his four previous losses to the Spaniard at this event.

But Nadal is not unshakeable this year. Even if his form has improved since the beginning of the tournament, his confidence is still a little shaky. His coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, said he feels his nephew is still not where he wants to be.

And in an odd sort of way, Federer is looking forward to the matchup. "It always seems to me that Rafa needs to be in a French Open final to make it special, and I got the match I guess I was hoping for," he said.

There is a danger of a letdown after his big win against Djokovic. But as Federer reassured us, he has not won the tournament. The victory is also likely to be a big boost. Federer had not had a big win in a Grand Slam since winning the Australian Open in 2010, and he had lost to Djokovic three times this year.

Recovery should not be a problem. Federer has trained well and is in good shape, and now he gets a day off -- maybe a little extra because of the rain predicted for Sunday. And though he doesn't like playing when it's wet and slow, he's had his best clay-court success in just such conditions. Nadal's balls don't bounce as high, and Federer has more time on his backhand. If it's hot and sunny, he'll get a little extra on his serve and forehand instead.

It'll take his very best: big serving, hitting his backhand like he was against Djokovic and few mistakes from Rafa. But if Federer finds that form again … watch out Rafa.