Sunday's French Open men's singles championship match between Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer is sure to be an exciting spectacle, but it won't end with a surprise unless Ferrer is able to pull off a stunning upset over the seven-time champion.
Despite having an advantage in age over Nadal, Ferrer will be entering unchartered territory when he steps onto the clay courts at Roland Garros on Sunday. It'll be the first time that the 31-year-old has appeared in a Grand Slam final.
It's been a long time coming, as Sports Illustrated's Bryan Graham pointed out.
Ferrer's 42 Grand Slam appearances before reaching first major final breaks an Open era record previously held by Kim Warwick (32).— Bryan Armen Graham (@BryanAGraham) June 7, 2013
On top of that, he's going up against one of the all-time greats in tennis and on clay. Nadal has won seven French Open singles titles. With an eighth on Sunday, he would make history as the player with the most titles at Roland Garros.
History surely isn't on Ferrer's side, either. The Spaniard has posted a less-than-stellar record against his fellow countryman on clay, per ESPN Stats & Info.
David Ferrer is 1-16 in his career on clay against Rafael Nadal— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 8, 2013
However, there are reasons to believe that this time could be different. Despite Nadal's superiority on clay throughout his career and Ferrer's inexperience with such a moment, the underdog still has a fighter's chance.
The biggest reason? Nadal is far and away the more fatigued player at the moment, having been tested much more seriously than his counterpart.
The seven-time champion was pushed to four sets in each of his first two appearances at Roland Garros, a shocking development for a player of Nadal's caliber. He also allowed his opponents to notch at least three games in every set until the fourth round.
But what Nadal will be feeling the most on Sunday are the effects from his five-set thriller in the semifinals against Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard battled past the top seed, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7 in a marathon of a match that tested the defending champ and pushed him to his limit.
Ferrer comes in as the hotter player, having not dropped a set in the entire tournament.
But while the differences in fatigue are worth noting, it's not anything that will prevent Nadal from making history on Sunday. It will take a perfectly crafted game plan from Ferrer to pull this David-and-Goliath-like upset that popular Twitter profile Tennis Problems poked fun at.
Nadal in his eighth Roland Garros final. Ferrer in his first Grand Slam final.— Tennis Problems (@Tennis_Prob) June 7, 2013
He surely knows by now that Nadal has proved to be vulnerable in the early goings of matches this year at Roland Garros. To make the most of that opportunity, Ferrer will be aiming to throw his best stuff at Nadal early on.
Does Ferrer have a real shot at victory?
But in doing so, Ferrer must not overwork himself and allow Nadal to gain the upper hand later on. The King of Clay's durability is top-notch, and he has shown the unique skill of playing at his best with almost nothing left in the tank. Ferrer can push himself early, but the big picture can't ever be forgotten.
Making extra plays and extending points wouldn't hurt his cause, either. He'll have the fresher legs, so if this championship match starts going back and forth, it could be an advantage for Ferrer.
Don't get me wrong—Ferrer could execute all of this perfectly and still come up short. That's just how good Nadal is. There's no mistaking the resume he's built, and it all started at Roland Garros.