Federer lurks as Nadal chases fifth French title
Just when it seemed that it would be a waste of time for anyone other than Rafael Nadal to turn up at the French Open, Roger Federer cast a shadow over the Spaniard's Roland Garros prospects.
After 34 days of the 57-date European claycourt season, it had seemed as if only one name would be engraved on the Musketeers' Cup this year since no one could beat the four-times Paris champion on red dust.
That was until Sunday, when world number two Federer finally found a way to break the indomitable spirit of the Majorcan in the Madrid Open final.
Apart from earning his first title of the season, the victory would also have gone some way towards healing Federer's dented pride since he had been on the receiving end of a 6-1 6-3 6-0 mauling by Nadal in the Paris final 12 months ago.
Add in two soul-destroying five-set final loses to Nadal at last year's Wimbledon and the 2009 Australian Open, it is little wonder that Federer was left a tearful wreck in Melbourne.
Nadal's incredible run has resulted in many people, including Andre Agassi, tipping him to complete a rare calendar grand slam this year but Federer intends to play spoilsport.
"I think when a guy wins the Australian Open and his better surface is clay then sure there is a big chance that he might go two for two," said the 27-year-old Swiss, who has been left holding the runner's up tray in Paris for the last three years.
"But I came very close a few times and it's not the easiest thing to do. There are guys who don't want to allow him to do that and I am the first guy (in that queue)."
Federer is seeking a 14th grand slam title to equal the overall record of Pete Sampras.
"Whereas a couple of weeks ago I was still a little bit unsure about my game and not sure if I could win the French Open, I'm now very excited about going to Paris," said Federer.
Beating the world number one at higher altitude in Madrid, where the clay plays faster, is likely to count for nothing when the season's second major begins on Sunday.
The Spaniard has flattened everyone who has stood before him to win the French Open four times in four attempts and the chances of anyone snapping that run appear extremely slim.
He is now primed to become the first player - man or woman - to win five successive French titles since the tournament went international in 1925.
"The only important thing about today's result is that I only have 15 Masters Series and not 16," Nadal said on Sunday after Federer handed him only his fifth defeat in 155 matches on his favoured surface since 2005.
"Roland Garros is a completely different tournament with completely different conditions. Now I have one week to prepare."
Federer might have snapped Nadal's 33-match winning streak on clay but it was world number four Novak Djokovic who laid all the groundwork.
The Serb, who turns 22 on Friday, must be the unluckiest player around as he could have won all three claycourt Masters titles this year had he not stumbled into Nadal.
After rattling Nadal in the Monte Carlo and Rome finals, he did everything right except convert one of the three matchpoints he had against the Spaniard in their Madrid semi-final.
"Next time I'll probably take two rackets on the match point and try to hit with both of them. It's frustrating that when you play so well you can't win," Djokovic said last week.
Andy Murray has already enjoyed a fruitful year by becoming the first Briton to climb into the top three in the ATP rankings but his chances of reaching the second week remain modest as he has yet to find his feet on clay.
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