Paris matchless: prince versus pirate

A place in history beckons the two finest players in the world today in an unmissable meeting

In the vast, colourful, blaring acreage that is the 2006 World Cup, the tennis at Roland Garros has managed to insert an intrusive, but meaningful, foot because of the soaring merit of this afternoon's men's final. Roger Federer, the world No 1, versus Rafael Nadal, the exuberant Spanish 20-year-old who is defending the title, is the clash everyone demanded and many simply regarded as inevitable, the best two clay-court players on the planet.

"Voila!", exclaimed the headline in France's sports daily, L'Equipe. "The summit!". Le Figaro pointed out: "The whole world is up for Federer-Nadal." Rather than swap thunderballs on Court Philippe Chatrier in pursuit of the Coupe des Mousquetaires and first prize of £644,000, these two could simply hurl statistics at each other. Truly formidable statistics.

Nadal, he of the piratical pants and headband, is going for his 60th straight victory on clay, having left Guillermo Vilas's long-standing record of 53 in his wake after the opening round here. He is in search of a fifth successive win over Federer, an indignity no one else has come near inflicting. He has not been beaten on the slow stuff since April 2005 and bustled into the French Open with three clay titles in his pocket: from Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

The monster stat pursued by Federer is to win the French and thereby hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, a feat last achieved in the men's game by Rod Laver in 1969 and in the women's by Steffi Graf in 1988. Even purists who acclaim those as "true" Grand Slams because they were achieved in a calendar year would surely not quibble overlong about praising Federer, who is operating in more demanding circumstances. And if he should triumph today, the Swiss superman would hold the quite astonishing record of having won all eight Grand Slam finals he has contested.

The prospect of holding the sport's four majors was summed up by this modest genius yesterday as "pretty nice". Both men have dropped just two sets en route to the final. Federer has won 16 sets and 113 games, Nadal 17 sets and 114 games. This is the first French final between the No 1 and No 2 seeds since 1984, when Ivan Lendl rallied to defeat John McEnroe (to McEnroe's enduring grief).

But enough of the statistics. What of the prospects? How can Federer turn round that losing sequence? "I'm feeling good, feeling rested and I know I'm playing well. I've got to play like I did in Rome [where he held two match points before Nadal pipped him in five sets], aggressive, patient, everything."

As for Nadal, he feels he must attempt what to everyone else would appear the impossible by being even more aggressive, though he suffered the indignity of being warned by the umpire for slowness between points in Friday's semi-final against Ivan Ljubicic.

Federer acknowledged this is the contest everyone has clamoured for. "The finals in Rome and Monte Carlo showed we are the best players on clay this season." While not supporting the argument that he and Federer are light years ahead on clay, Nadal acknowledged: "The people who deserve to win, win." So they do, Rafa.

Thanks to David Nalbandian's abdominal strain, which terminated their semi-final in one hour and 48 minutes, Federer is nicely rested. "That's the key here at the French Open," he said. "That you come such a long way and you feel pretty good. So one thing's for sure, I won't lose because I'm tired. Trying to win this title for the first time, my goal was to reach at least the semi-finals [as he did last year, losing to Nadal]. I've surpassed that, so that's fantastic. Quarters and semis are all very nice, but you want to go out there on a Sunday with a chance."

Federer dismissed any belief that Nadal can only win on clay. "Those who say that have absolutely no idea of tennis. [Nadal] has won on other surfaces, indoors in Madrid, outdoors in Toronto, against very good opposition. So it's being consistent that makes the difference. That's why he and I keep ourselves at the top of the ranking."

Though he does not fear Federer, Nadal respects and admires the No 1. "He is one of the best in history. He's a world superstar, and not just in tennis, in all sports. And he's a nice guy. I admire his humble (sic), no?"

And Federer admires Nadal's power and strokemaking genius, no? Well, yes. And with reason. Against Ljubicic, fourth in the world rankings, Nadal offered fleeting moments of fallibility to prove he is human and not from another planet, as his crushed third-round opponent, Paul-Henri Mathieu, maintained. But those moments are comfortably exceeded by shots possibly fashioned on Krypton. You get the impression that, if needed, Rafa could even conjure up a doosra.

Federer let on that "many of those in the locker room are rooting for me" because of the four Slams hope, an opinion reinforced by Ljubicic in the sour aftermath of his defeat by Nadal. "I would love to see Roger win it. I think everybody would, as he is probably the best player ever."

Well, not quite everybody. In Nadal's Majorcan home town, Manacor, giant screens have been erected at the football stadium and the racecourse. No point asking them who they think will win.

Suggested Topics
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Gillian Anderson was paid less than her male co-star David Duchovny for three years while she was in the The X-Files until she protested and was given the same salary

Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood

Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs

The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsA Welsh town has changed its name - and a prize if you can notice how
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
Ronaldinho signs the t-shirt of a pitch invader
footballProof they are getting bolder
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?