Head-to-head: 6 Fed, 10 Rafa
Last meeting: Masters Series Hamburg '08, Rafa 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-3
What's there left to say about this matchup? Well, in their 17th career meeting and third straight Roland Garros final, top seed Roger Federer will try to end all talk of GOAT with a resounding win over 3-time defending champion Rafael Nadal, who's undefeated at this major. To add spice to the mix, 6-time French Open champ Bjorn Borg publicly declared "[Federer] definitely will be the greatest player ever to play the game" if he captures the crown. I'm already out of breath.
How they got here: Fed displayed true grit and intesity in taking out a feisty Gael Monfils 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5. Though nowhere near his best, the world no. 1's stats were impressive with 87 winners against 30 errors, 71% first serve success, and converting 7 of 15 break chances. The marquee matchup on the men's side became more of a mismatch as Rafa taught Novak Djokovic a few things about clay-court tennis. The Spaniard dominated from all parts of the court hitting a ridiculous 66 winners against 16 errors in his 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win. Gawdy.
Fed + Rafa just met last month at the Master Series Hamburg where the Mallorcan Matador snatched the title away 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-3 from the 4-time defending champion.
Here's what the Swiss had to say about playing Rafa:
Rafa had this to say about another battle with the world no. 1:
He is not the kind of guy you can expect surprises from, because he's a top player, plays very well. He can play for very long matches. I know what to expect, so it's difficult on the one hand, and it's good on the other.
You know, in the past I was always trying to find a key of the match to win, and in the past I was less aggressive. He always played in the same way, so this is why I think I can surprise him more than he can surprise me.
Outlook: Although I felt before Roland Garros started that Fed had a decent chance to complete his career Slam by winning in Sunday's final, my mind changed after seeing Rafa's sublime display of clay-court tennis over these two weeks. The 22-year old's use of the whole court - hard groundies into the corners, angled shotmaking, drop shots and smart approaches to the net - has me convinced that only a monumental effort from Fed will topple the defending champ from his throne this year.
When you play against Roger you can't imagine anything. He's a very complete player. He has all the shots, so everything can do. But I expect a very tough match, and for sure I think he going to try to play aggressiveEach of us has tried to improve what he needs to improve, and most of the time people from the outside can't see that. But he is probably trying new things. He is trying new things and trying to go beyond what he usually does, but it's difficult to assess from the outside.
The world no. 1 will need to throw everything, including the kichen sink, at the Spaniard and hope he's also having an off day. I don't see that happening. What do I see? Rafa's fourth consecutive Roland Garros crown.
Here's a video of Fed + Rafa in their post-match pressers talking about Sunday's big match:
(image via Getty)