World's top two in another final
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal reaffirmed their positions as the top two players in the world by dodging the rain showers and dismissing their opponents on their way to the final of the French Open.
As those opponents were Roger Federer and David Ferrer, the world No. 6, the ease with which they won their matches was extraordinary. Djokovic beat Federer, the man who had ended his 41-match winning streak at the same stage here last year, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 while Nadal toyed with Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1.
"Sorry for David," Nadal said of his fellow Spaniard. "He's a great fighter. He's always there week after week."
And beaten by Nadal whenever they meet. "I try to do my best," said Ferrer, dead-pan. "He didn't play too many errors. Nothing special."
No, indeed, nothing special about Nadal playing this well on clay. Is he close to perfection? Wrong question to put to Rafa.
"I don't believe in perfection, no?" he replied. "I really don't like to talk about perfection because that, in my opinion, doesn't exist. You can always play better. But, sure, I am happy about the way I am playing. Probably today was my best match of the tournament. That's fantastic."
There were some fantastic moments, too, notably when Nadal slipped in the third game of the second set and won the point from a sitting position.
"I want to come to the net for a volley but the ball didn't bounce high enough and I fell," Nadal explained. "But my eyes were always on the ball. I'm not saying it's easy. When I realized I couldn't volley, I thought, OK, it's still within reach. I can hit it, I thought."
That probably sums up Nadal's entire view of his career. He always thinks he can hit it – and opponents despair when he does. He has now reached a seventh Roland Garros final which is a record and, if he beats Djokovic on Sunday, he will have broken Bjorn Borg's record of six victories here.
Djokovic, who is trying to set records himself by becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at once, is going to have to up his game a notch to unseat the defending champion even though the Serb also played his best match here this year as he saw off Federer's second set challenge and went on to win with ease.
Federer had all sorts of opportunities in the second set, breaking serve three times but never serving well enough to capitalize.
"I did have enough chances, so it's no excuse there," he said. "I tried and it just didn't work out today. Novak forces the issue as well, so there's a bit more reacting going on than actually deciding where you want to hit the ball – you know, how many possibilities you have to hit it into a certain corner. I was actually feeling particularly well in the second set but it was hard to keep on serving well in the wind. And in the third I wasn't able to put a good game together any more."
Federer had served for that second set at 5-4 but made forehand errors on the crucial points, betraying the fact that he felt the need to go for his shots against a Serbian defence that is so difficult to crack.
Djokovic was pleased that he had been able to survive the test but was already thinking of the ordeal of playing Nadal for the first time in a final at Roland Garros when he spoke afterwards. "I re-grouped mentally and came back," he said.
"That's really positive, especially when you come back from a double break down against a player like Federer. It's a great achievement. But, look, I can't allow myself to have so many ups and downs, especially in the next match."
Djokovic gave himself credit for his amazing improvement over the past 15 months through his work ethic but added, "It's because of these two guys (Nadal and Federer) too, that I have improved. This is the beauty of today's tennis in this moment. We make each other better players and better persons on and off the court."
The crowd, diverted by the thought of lunch on a dark, windy day, had been slow to show up for the 1 p.m. start of Nadal's match and the second semifinal was delayed for a heavy shower. Despite all the excitement of the previous days, the atmosphere was subdued throughout even though the Philippe Chatrier Court was full to capacity by the end.
There was, in fact, more drama to be found on Suzanne Lenglen where the surprise new personality of these championships, Sara Errani, partnered Roberta Vinci to victory in a brilliantly played women's doubles final over the Russian pair of Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova by 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Kirilenko dominated the early stages with some fantastic volleying but slowly the Italians, who had beaten this pair twice before in recent weeks, worked their way back into it as Vinci's net play got sharper and sharper.
A long, tough battle with plenty of running was obviously not ideal for Errani on the eve of her first ever Grand Slam singles final against Maria Sharapova, especially as she was wearing some strapping on her right thigh. But the bubbly 25-year-old from Bologna was wasn't worried about that afterwards and seems to be able to compartmentalize her thoughts pretty well. Asked if she had been distracted by the great day that awaits her, Errani replied, "No, I just woke up and think only about doubles. Tomorrow I will think about singles."
Not bad for a player who has never been anywhere close to reaching finals day at a Grand Slam before, either in singles or doubles.