History is in the air at Roland Garros, that beautiful and venerable home of the French Open. It could, and should, be made this afternoon by the incredible Rafael Nadal (pictured right) in his fourth successive final here, and his third against the world No 1, Roger Federer, and it is no small irony that the trophy will be presented by Bjorn Borg, the only man in the modern era to have clocked up four straight French titles.
The Borg-Nadal comparisons, at least on clay, are inevitable but Nadal, 22 last week, is having none of it. "How could I dare compare myself to Borg? He was one of the top three players in the history of tennis."
Borg said he was not in the business of comparisons but forecast that Nadal "could win seven or eight French Opens, a player like [him] doesn't come along every 10 years". Borg predicts a classic final, "a long and close match". Federer is out to claim his first French title, and Borg said: "If he wins this he will definitely be the greatest player ever."
Nadal's progress into the final could not have been bettered: six matches won in straight sets, with 37 games conceded. He has vanquished four seeds, compared with one by Federer, who has also dropped three sets. This is in keeping with what even his most ardent admirers are calling an indifferent year so far.
It may be something to do with a keeping up of spirits, but Federer appears to dismiss this notion. After Friday's patchy semi-final win over Gaël Monfils, Federer was intoning his now-familiar denial mantra. "I'm playing well, I feel I have the right tactics, the right game and the fitness to beat [Nadal]."
Federer was being a touch more realistic when he acknowledged today's match as "the ultimate test on clay". It is, he says, "the position I wanted, Rafa across the net". It is a daunting view, since the Spaniard leads 8-1 in their clay-court clashes, hardly the statistic to encourage Federer as he pursues the only Grand Slam to elude his juggernaut progress which has taken him to 15 finals, 12 won and only two lost – at Roland Garros in 2006 and 2007 to Rafa. He was also beaten by Nadal in the 2005 French semi-finals.
Nadal has never lost at Roland Garros, 27 straight wins so far. No wonder he exudes a proprietorial air, never more so than when destroying his rival for the worldNo 2 spot, Novak Djokovic, on Friday. How to beat him? Rafa's fellow Spaniard David Ferrer says: "Be aggressive, in his face. If not he will eat you, little by little. What he does to you is barbarous."