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Rafael Nadal (pictured) advanced to his fourth straight Roland Garros final and tightened his grip on the No. 2 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings with a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(3) victory over No. 3 Novak Djokovic in Paris on Friday.
In extending his Roland Garros record to 27-0, three-time defending champion Nadal is now the first man since Ivan Lendl from 1984-1987 to reach four consecutive finals, and just the third man in the Open Era to do so. Bjorn Borg was the first player to achieve it, winning the title on all four occasions from 1978-1981 - the only player to win four consecutive titles since the event went international in 1925.
"I'm very happy I reached the final," said Nadal. "I played a great tournament, and I'm going to do everything I can to try and reach the summit. That would be my fourth victory in a row here, and that would be wonderful."
Nadal is attempting to join Bjorn Borg as the only player to win four consecutive titles since the tournament went international in 1925. (Only one other player has won four non-consecutive titles: Henri Cochet between 1926 and 1932.) Nadal becomes just the second player after Borg to reach the final at Roland Garros on two or more occasions without dropping a set, also doing so last year before dropping his only set of the tournament in the final against Roger Federer.
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Friday’s semifinal clash between Nadal and Djokovic had at stake not only a place in the Roland Garros final, but also the No. 2 spot in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. It turned out to be a match that was largely dominated in the opening two sets by Nadal, who has enjoyed a 150 week reign at No. 2.
After being forced to save a break point in his opening service game, Djokovic succumbed to Nadal’s constant pressure soon after, losing his serve in the third game as Nadal’s deep hitting from the back of the court drove Djokovic back and forced the error. The Serbian was unable to generate any break points on Nadal’s serve throughout the set and, with his attacking play nullified by great defense from Nadal, he went on to lose the first set 6-4 after 57 minutes.
Nadal carried his momentum into the second set, immediately gaining a break of serve as a Djokovic forehand went wide. Closing in on his prey, Nadal did not ease up and, after saving the first break point against him at 2-1, went on to break Djokovic’s serve again in the fifth game with some devastating play on his forehand.
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After going on to close out the set 6-2 with a forehand winner after 91 minutes, Nadal all but put the match out of Djokovic’s reach by going up a double break in the third set. The Spaniard continued to put as many balls back in play as possible, frustrating Djokovic and enticing more errors to race to a 3-0 lead.
However, Djokovic was not quite beaten and found his game as his aggressive play finally came to the fore, dictating to Nadal and earning him his first break of the match to pull the score back to 3-1. After having been denied the chance to level the set in the sixth game, Djokovic received a second chance with Nadal serving for the match at 5-4. Some inspired play from Djokovic earned him a break point and he leveled as Nadal netted a backhand under increasing pressure.
Playing Nadal at Roland Garros for the third straight year, Djokovic (pictured, right) had the chance to win his first set against the Spaniard at Roland Garros when he earned a set point after an effective return in the 12th game. However, Nadal denied him with a fine serve and, after holding serve, went on to take the match on the tie-break, racing through to win 7-3 and ultimately seal the victory after 2hr., 49min.
"The level of the two first sets was very good today. Almost perfect," Nadal said. So I'm happy about how I played today. It was my best match at Roland Garros. I was very dominant on the court. I could throw the ball anywhere I wanted. I was dominating both on my forehand and backhand, and I didn't have to think that I could make mistakes. That was key."
"The first two sets, especially the second set, was pretty bad for me," said Djokovic. "I wasn't finding any rhythm and making a lot of unforced errors. I wasn't moving the way I moved in our last match in Hamburg. I was making more mistakes than I should have. He showed again that in the most important moments he's very strong mentally, and why he is the defending champion of the French Open."
Manacor resident Nadal captured his first Roland Garros title in 2005 (d. Puerta), becoming the first player since Mats Wilander in 1982 to win the event on his debut. He then went on to win his second and third titles with victories over Federer in the 2006 and 2007 finals. Nadal has a stellar record on clay, losing just two of his past 116 matches since the start of 2005 ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo.
For the fourth successive year, Nadal came into Roland Garros having won at least three clay court titles. He successfully defended his titles at ATP Masters Series Monte-Carlo and Barcelona, before winning at ATP Masters Series Hamburg (d. Federer) for the first time.
The 21-year-old Djokovic, who was contesting his fifth consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, was bidding to reach his third successive final after finishing runner-up to Roger Federer at the US Open last year and capturing his first title at the Australian Open (d. Tsonga) in January.
Coming into Roland Garros, Djokovic was 28-6 on the season, having also captured titles at ATP Masters Series Indian Wells (d. Fish) and ATP Masters Series Rome (d. Wawrinka). He now drops to 37-7.
Despite the loss, Djokovic was feeling optimistic for the upcoming grass court season. "I'm only 21 years old and I played so much, you know, semifinals of the Grand Slam tournaments, and won a couple of majors and a Grand Slam itself, so I have no reason to be depressed. I just look forward to the future."
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Wednesday: Monfils Fires into First Grand Slam Semifinal
Wednesday: Roger's Record Run Hits 16
Tuesday: Nadal Celebrates 22nd Birthday in Style
Tuesday: Djokovic Sets Up Nadal Semifinal Showdown
Monday: Monfils Reaches First Slam Quarterfinal
Monday: Federer to Meet Gonzalez in Quarterfinal
Sunday: Nadal to Meet Almagro in All-Spanish Quarterfinal
Sunday: Djokovic Rolls On; Gulbis Reaches First Grand Slam QF
Saturday: Federer Advances to 4th Rd.; Ljubicic Stuns Davydenko
Saturday: Ferrer Out Lasts Hewitt; Gonzalez Rallies Past Wawrinka
Friday: Relief for Djokovic; Mathieu Test Next
Friday: Confident Nadal Beats Third Lefty for Last 16 Berth
Thursday: Federer Fights into Third Round for Ancic Test
Thursday: Damp Conditions Don't Hinder Nadal
Thursday: Nalbandian, Blake Fall in Second Round
Wednesday: Djokovic, Murray into Third Round; Berdych Falls
Wednesday: Three-time Champion Nadal Begins Title Defense
Wednesday: Ferrer, Youzhny, Hewitt & Stepanek All Advance
Tuesday: Davydenko, Robredo Through on Rain-Hit Day
Monday: Federer, Berdych Advance; Verdasco Survives Five Sets
Monday: Robredo, Gonzalez Advance; Baghdatis Falls
Sunday: Kuerten Bids Emotional Farewell
Sunday: Djokovic Survives First Round Scare
Sunday: Nalbandian, Blake Make Confident Starts
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