It took almost two weeks, 12 matches and, on a muggy, cloudy Friday, more than a few moments of elevated heart rates, but Rafael Nadal of...
PARIS — It took almost two weeks, 12 matches and, on a muggy, cloudy Friday, more than a few moments of elevated heart rates, but Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland are right where most of the world expected them to be — in the final of the French Open.
They took diametrically different routes, with Federer having to shrug off 45 unforced errors to come from behind in all three sets against stubborn Nikolay Davydenko, 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (9-7), while Nadal got out to leads, then stumbled near the finish of the first two sets before righting his ship and wearing down Novak Djokovic, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.
And so Sunday they will reprise the championship match of 2006, when Nadal secured the French for the second time in a row while Federer failed to win the only Grand Slam tournament not in his portfolio, and the one that threatens to dog his career the way failure here followed American Pete Sampras.
Despite the sputtering performance, Federer told reporters: “I played excellent when I had to.”
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Of course, had he not uncharacteristically sprayed groundstrokes long, wide and into the net, or shanked three balls or failed, astonishingly, to put a number of soft Davydenko second serves into play, Federer wouldn’t have needed to play excellently when he “had to.”
But when you are two days before a Grand Slam final, spinning a mediocre performance into gold is eminently smarter than publicly hanging your head and pondering where your game has gone.
Federer was indeed splendid when he was on the edge of losing sets. But there was so much about this 3-hour, 1-minute match on the red clay of Roland Garros that was unlike Federer. Like allowing Davydenko 17 break-point opportunities, though the Russian could cash in only three. Like allowing Davydenko to dictate enough of the rallies to saddle Federer with 57 forced errors. Like Federer getting a mere 37 percent of his first serves in during the second set and 51 percent for the match.
Men’s singles final,
6 a.m., Ch. 5
And while Federer would deliver a stunning shot here or there, he never put them together as he usually does for games at a stretch. There was, in short, no consistency to his play. He looked, for much of this match, like the third-best player in the tournament behind Nadal and Serbian Djokovic.
Federer is happy to be in position to win an 11th Grand Slam event, but after this overall sloppy show, how confident can he be going against Nadal? Nadal was, despite some lapses, once again breathtaking in his movement, stroking and serving.
In the first set, Nadal was up two breaks at 5-2 before double-faulting to give one back and smacking a simple forehand into the net to return a second. But Nadal broke again to go up 6-5 and, on set point, forced Djokovic into a weak return that he drove for a winner.
In the second set, Nadal was at love-40 in his first service game and on the brink of trailing 2-0 when he won 20 of his next 21 service points. He broke for a 4-3 lead, but had another lapse, this time serving for the set at 5-4. Staring at yet another break point, Nadal unleashed a 124 mph ace down the middle and was never again threatened.
• No. 1 Justine Henin of Belgium seeks her third straight French Open title and fourth overall when she plays No. 7 Ana Ivanovic of Serbia in the women’s final today. “I’m 25,” Henin said. “I’m still young. But also I need to realize time flies very fast. I need to make the most of every moment.”