Top seeds tire of the racket

The Baltimore Sun

PARIS -- Roger Federer dropped in for one last pre-final news conference yesterday, and he was finished talking in less than 10 minutes.

French Open officials then practically had to drag No. 2 Rafael Nadal into the interview room, where he seemed mildly annoyed to be jousting with reporters about the same issues he had heard for the past two weeks.

Pressure to win a third straight French? Pressure to keep Federer from becoming the sixth men's player to win all four of the Grand Slam tournaments?

He and Federer just want to do one thing: play today's match.

What about another matchup with the top-seeded Federer, Nadal was asked.

"I feel the same. It's the final of Roland Garros," he said. "The motivation is the final, not playing against Roger."

There's history waiting for both players, though what Federer can achieve here is much more important.

He has 10 Grand Slam titles in his quest to catch Pete Sampras' 14 but, like Sampras, the French has escaped him, and with every year that passes it becomes harder. It's a young man's tournament, and though Federer won't be 26 until Aug. 8, he's fighting not only age, but also the continued presence of Nadal, who is just 21, and now the specter of 20-year-old Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic was, for some, the second-best player at this French Open behind Nadal, who defeated him in straight sets in the semifinals Friday but not before Djokovic sent a signal that he will be a major force on red clay.

Nadal is playing at a consistently high level, and Federer has waffled through his past two matches, losing a set to Tommy Robredo and having to rally from behind in each set against Nikolay Davydenko in the semifinals.

A year ago Federer fell in four sets in the final to Nadal, and one could argue that while Federer should be more relaxed, having been to one final here, Nadal's clay-court game has never been at a higher level.

"I really wanted to win that match last year," Federer said. "I knew what it meant for my career, for myself. And it's the same thing one year later."

There is something historic here for Nadal as well. He could match Bjorn Borg as the only men to win three straight French Opens during the Open era.

But, unlike Federer, one suspects Nadal is less interested in having his name placed in some record book than in just winning this tournament.

Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad