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
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit