French Open 2013 Tennis: Biggest Keys to Rafael Nadal vs. David Ferrer Final

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French Open 2013 Tennis: Biggest Keys to Rafael Nadal vs. David Ferrer Final
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

After surviving world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in five sets on Friday, Rafael Nadal is an overwhelming favorite to win his eighth career French Open title on Sunday at Roland Garros.

Just ask his next opponent, David Ferrer (via Roland Garros):

The King of clay will take on the veteran Spaniard in the men's final. Ferrer, who is making his first-ever Grand Slam final appearance, has yet to drop a set in this tournament, but many feel that's about to change.

Nadal has owned Ferrer over the years, winning six straight meetings with his compatriot, including three clay-court matches in 2013. 

But their last two meetings in Madrid and Rome have each gone the distance. 

Below, we'll highlight the biggest keys to Sunday's much-anticipated French Open men's final.

 

Can Ferrer Limit the Unforced Errors?

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Although you could argue that nearly every error Novak Djokovic made in his semifinal loss to Rafael Nadal on Friday was forced, the world No. 1 technically committed 75 unforced errors in the five-set defeat.

Nadal on the other hand, made just 44 unforced errors.

Which player will commit more unforced errors on Sunday?

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Ferrer has been doing a solid job all tournament long of limiting his mistakes and playing clean tennis. But Nadal, more so than any other player on clay, is capable of forcing opponents to play uncharacteristically and almost rushed at times. 

The simple fact that a player has to strike three or four winners just to steal a point from Rafa makes beating him in three-of-five sets improbable on this surface. When an opponent is piling up the errors, that task becomes impossible.

Keep a close eye on Ferrer's unforced error count on Sunday. He committed just 21 in his semifinal win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. But something tells me his count will be a bit higher in the final.

 

Will Nadal Bounce Back from Friday's Epic Semifinal?

The biggest question facing Nadal heading into the final is how he will respond two days after one of the most grueling tennis matches ever played.

Nadal and Djokovic went at it for nearly five hours on Friday, playing five sets and well over 300 points. 

The match had to have taken both a physical and mental toll on both players, especially Rafa, who returned just last February after taking seven months off to rest his aching knees. 

All indications are that Nadal will be ready to go, though. Come Sunday afternoon in Paris, he will have had two days to rest, recover and prepare for all of the challenges Ferrer presents. Not to mention, the prize is well within reach. Rafa is one win away from an eighth French Open championship and a 12th career Grand Slam title.

 

Will Ferrer Continue to Dominate on Return?

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One of the biggest keys to Ferrer having yet to drop a single set at the French Open this summer has been his play in the return game. 

Despite being undersized at 5'9", Ferrer has been flying around the court, covering tons of ground en route to winning 42 return games through the first six rounds of the men's draw. To put that in perspective, Nadal has won just 35 return games through his first six match wins. 

Ferrer won a remarkable 48 percent of his receiving points against Tsonga in the semis on Friday, recording 11 return winners and just eight unforced errors on the return.

Don't expect him to post similar numbers on Sunday, but so long as he is making Nadal work early in his service games, Ferrer will be on the right track to winning his first-ever Grand Slam title.

Make no mistake, it's going to require a superhuman effort from David Ferrer in order for him to shock the world on Sunday. But the good news for the 31-year-old underdog is that he's playing sensational tennis and with absolutely nothing to lose. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Patrick Clarke on Twitter. 

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