Roland Garros Men’s Final Preview: Rafael Nadal Going for Eight Over David Ferrer

(June 8, 2013) Ever since coming back from his injury layoff, it seems all that Rafael Nadal can do is chase records, whether consciously or not, and this year’s Roland Garros is no different. The Spaniard is looking for not only his eight Roland Garros title, but also to become the first man in history to win eight titles at the same Slam event. Nadal now holds a 58-1 record at Roland Garros, but Ferrer is the only player to not have dropped a set en route to the final this year.

The two have already played each other three times this year, with two of those matches going the distance, so clearly Ferrer is capable of pushing Nadal. But can he do it in a best-of-five? Tennis Grandstand writers Chris Skelton and Nick Nemeroff, and guest contributor Josh Meiseles weigh in and give their predictions.

Can David Ferrer push Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros final?

Josh Meiseles (Blog, The Sixth Set; @TheSixthSet): I would be hard-pressed to remember the last time a player was so ruthlessly dominant throughout a Grand Slam, yet was as massive an underdog entering the final as Ferrer will be when he duels with Nadal on Sunday.

In Nadal, the elder Spaniard not only faces a seven-time French Open champion, he goes up against someone who has maintained a firm stranglehold on their rivalry for the past decade. The world number four’s 19-4 head-to-head edge is highly indicative of Ferrer’s perpetual mental block against him and lack of confidence. Additionally, while his combined 42 breaks of serve and 18-0 sets-won record this fortnight are Nadalian numbers at Roland Garros, they should largely be considered a product of his rather benign draw. That said, it would require a gargantuan effort from the elder Spaniard to suddenly discover the fortitude to outlast Nadal in five sets, in the king of clay’s playground and with the additional pressure of this being his maiden Grand Slam final.

The only chance Ferrer has to make this competitive is if the weather forecast does hold true and it rains before the match, meaning the clay is dampened and Nadal’s forehand loses much of its bite. Even then, it would be foolish to pick against him. Nadal claims his eighth Roland Garros title after four sets.

Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1

Chris Skelton (@ChrisSkelton87): David Ferrer must feel like laughing and crying at the same time. At the age of 31, he reached the first major final of his career just months after claiming his first Masters 1000 title. This milestone represents a fitting climax to his late-career surge over the last eighteen months and a well-deserved opportunity. On Sunday, though, Ferrer faces a man who has beaten him 16 straight times on clay in fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal, also a man who never has lost a final at Roland Garros and won the tournament a record seven times. When they met in a 2012 semifinal at this tournament, Nadal allowed him just five games.

So there’s that. On the bright side, Ferrer has defeated Nadal at two majors before and took sets off him at their two previous clay meetings this season. He came within two points of a stunning upset over his countryman in Madrid, but he faded sharply late in both matches. Ferrer has not lost a set this tournament, but he has faced a much easier draw than the defending champion. While some men might suffer a hangover after defeating the world No. 1, Nadal has too much discipline to use his epic semifinal victory over Novak Djokovic as anything but a confidence boost.

The seven-time Roland Garros champion is simply a better player in every area than Ferrer, who will struggle to rise to the occasion of his first major final. Expect him to start slowly, make his move in the second set, and crumble soon after it fails.

Winner: Rafael Nadal, 6-1, 7-5, 6-2

Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff): The French Open final truly presents a battle between David and Goliath. David Ferrer could not have asked for a more unwelcoming opponent to greet him in his grand slam final debut. The only time Ferrer has conquered Rafael Nadal on clay came in their first ever meeting in 2004. Since then, Nadal has taken out Ferrer 17 straight times on his beloved red dirt.

In order for Ferrer to flip the script and pull off what would undoubtedly be one of the greatest upsets in tennis history, he’ll have to do a lot of things right to say the least. Throughout his career, Nadal has won 95 percent of the matches where he captured the opening set so it’s safe to say the opening frame of the match could very well be do or die for Ferrer.

If Ferrer wants any chance of winning the first set or any set for that matter, it will be paramount for him to dictate and stretch Nadal with his forehand, neutralize Nadal’s vicious topspin by taking a proactive stance on the baseline, take advantage of Nadal’s distant return position, and attack the King of Clay’s second serve. Ultimately, I think the increasingly warm conditions, Nadal’s overwhelming pattern of plays, and the magnitude of the moment will be too much for Ferrer to overcome in the end.

Prediction: Rafael Nadal, 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3 6-3

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