It took an epic five-set match against Novak Djokovic to get there, but Rafael Nadal has reached the French Open final for a fourth consecutive year. Nadal has a chance to win his fourth straight title at Roland Garros and eighth in nine years, but he must first go through David Ferrer.
The 31-year-old Ferrer is currently the No. 5 player in the world, but he will be making his first appearance in a Grand Slam final on Sunday. Ferrer has been on the precipice of this moment for quite some time, though, and he likely knows that he has nothing to lose.
There is no doubt that Nadal is the superior player in terms of talent and past success, but this match won't be as easy as some are being led to believe. Ferrer is an excellent clay-court player in his own right, and Nadal will have to work for everything.
Here are the three biggest keys to Nadal beating his Davis Cup teammate on Sunday and reigning supreme at the French Open yet again.
Be the Aggressor
One of the biggest reasons Nadal has been so good over the years, particularly on clay, is his penchant for taking charge of points and dictating how they're played. Sitting back and counter-punching works for some players, but that simply isn't Nadal's game. He needs to stick to his guns and play the way he always does in order to vanquish Ferrer.
Nadal was able to do that for the most part in the semifinals, as he hit an impressive 61 winners. Even while being aggressive, however, Nadal was able to limit his mistakes. He committed just 44 unforced errors, whereas Djokovic was responsible for 75. Nadal found the right balance between aggressiveness and intelligence, and that is why he has a chance to become the first man to win a single Grand Slam eight times (per BBC Sport).
Ferrer thrives on taking what his opponent gives him and sending it back. It's almost like hitting the ball against a wall, as he can seemingly get to everything. Because of that, Nadal could be suckered into playing the pace that Ferrer wants to play. Rafa can't let that creep into his mind, though, and he shouldn't stray from what has worked for so many years.
Keep Points Short
Nadal is one of the best in the world when it comes to playing long points, as he can outlast his opponents and hit a winner from out of nowhere. With that said, Ferrer may be even better at hanging in points and frustrating opponents. For perhaps the first time in his career, the last thing Nadal wants to do is lengthen points, because that is where Ferrer thrives.
If both men entered this match on equal rest, then Nadal could probably do anything he wanted and still win handily. That isn't the case, though, as Ferrer has yet to drop a set in the French Open and has yet to be truly tested. Rafa, on the other hand, dropped a set in each of his first two matches, and he took nearly five hours to defeat Djokovic on Friday, as noted by The Desert Sun.
Nadal has incredible stamina, but he is coming off his first five-set match since returning from a knee injury that kept him out for seven months. Ferrer won't be tired at all, especially since he doesn't seem to get tired regardless of the situation. Ferrer will gain confidence if Nadal extends rallies and doesn't go for the kill, so Rafa needs to go for winners and end this match in straight sets if at all possible.
Don't Overlook Ferrer
Perhaps the biggest trap that could trip up Nadal in his quest for eight French Open titles is looking past Ferrer. That normally isn't an issue for Nadal, but it would be tough to blame him if that is what ultimately happens. Nadal defeated Djokovic in arguably one of the greatest clay-court matches of all time, and most fans believe that should have been the final. Rafa needs to make sure that he doesn't have the same mentality.
Luckily for Nadal, he has played alongside Ferrer in international competition for a long time, and he has already faced him on 23 occasions, so he knows what the diminutive player brings to the table. Nadal has said all the right things thus far, as he gave Ferrer credit following their respective victories and truly seemed to understand the challenge that he faces, according to Roland Garros.
Nadal is a humble person, so it isn't a surprise that he was outwardly complimentary toward Ferrer, but what he actually feels inside is the most important thing. If Nadal believes what he told the media, there is no chance that he will take Ferrer lightly. If he buys into the media hype and believes that the title is already as good as his, though, Ferrer will pose a very dangerous threat to his throne as the king of clay.
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