French Open 2013: Keys for David Ferrer and Rafael Nadal in Championship Match
On one end, we have the 31-year-old Ferrer who reached the first Grand Slam championship match of his career with a thrilling victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
But it's across the net that the most history could be made Sunday. Nadal, who much of the tennis world has dubbed the "King of Clay," will be going for a record eighth French Open title. With a win, all eight of his titles will have come in the last nine years.
The all-Spanish final was set on Friday (per Roland Garros' official Twitter), after each star took care of business in a semifinal round that was a breeze for the underdog and a huge test for the defending champion.
David Ferrer will face Rafael Nadal in the final, the 1st all-Spanish RG final since 2002 between Costa and Ferrero. #RG13— Roland Garros (@rolandgarros) June 7, 2013
With so much on the line, let's take a look at the X-factors for both Spaniards in their quest for the 2013 French Open title.
David Ferrer's X-Factors
Act Like You've Been Here Before
After reaching the semifinals of a Grand Slam major on a handful of occasions, Sunday will be the first time Ferrer has taken the court with such a big championship on the line.
It'll surely be a whirlwind of emotions for the Spaniard, who has knocked on the door of this moment so many times in his career. And if he isn't fully prepared for that moment, he'll fall victim to an already putrid record against Nadal on clay (per ESPN Stats & Information).
David Ferrer is 1-16 in his career on clay against Rafael Nadal— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2013
Ferrer will have a massive disadvantage in the nerves department, as Nadal has a huge upper hand in experience despite being four years younger.
But he doesn't have to act like that's the case. Instead, he can come out confident in his own game and with the knowledge he's built up over a long career.
Doing so is just about the only chance he has to take down the seven-time winner.
Attack Early, But Don't Wear Down
Nadal hasn't been his usual dominant self on clay, so far, this year at Roland Garros, despite making it to the championship final.
Fatigue has been an issue for the 27-year-old, who has been tested and had to survive a marathon match against Novak Djokovic to advance to the final. But he's been able to bounce back from slow starts and show his world-class ability as his opponents wear down.
It's a must for Ferrer to take the first set if he wants a real shot at victory. That's when Nadal has proven to be vulnerable–if you can find any vulnerable part of his game on clay.
But he can't put too much effort into that, or Nadal will have a target on his back in the later rounds and take down the fatigued Ferrer. He has to balance his energy and make sure he saves enough for the end.
Rafael Nadal's X-Factors
Be Forcible With Shots
If Nadal and Ferrer were entering this match with similar fatigue levels, things would be much simpler for the seven-time champion. But Ferrer has yet to drop a set, while Nadal has been tested early and often at Roland Garros.
While Nadal is masterful at winning long points, he can't afford to waste his energy in doing so. With the best clay game in the world, he'll have to force his winners and take chances he wouldn't normally take.
Nadal is certainly talented enough to let the match come to him. He can overpower Ferrer with his control over the court and force his game. But he might not have enough gas in the tank to be his usual self, and that's why he must take chances and play gutsy.
Don't Take Competition Lightly
With a near-perfect record against his opponent and the allure of not having to face Djokovic, Roger Federer or Andy Murray in the final, it's certainly feasible and understandable if Nadal overlooks Ferrer. But he can't afford to take his competition lightly if he wants to win his eighth French Open.
The 31-year-old Ferrer may not have made it to a Grand Slam final in his day, but he's certainly become worthy of being regarded as one of the world's best tennis players. His 20 career singles titles speak for themselves, and his No. 5 world ranking is nothing to scoff at.
Ferrer has been around the block and faced Nadal many times, so I'd hope, by now, that the defending champ has seen enough promise from his opponent to know he can't afford to overlook him. But you can never be too sure, and with Nadal's track record, he has the right to be overconfident.
But champions never overlook their opponent, and Nadal is just that. There's no reason to believe he'll do so, but after all, he can't afford to with such worthy competition.
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