This year's French Open is the first year in quite some time that Rafael Nadal was not the overwhelming favorite to win. Novak Djokovic earned that distinction by beating Nadal in two clay-court finals heading into the Roland Garros, and Djokovic is widely considered the hottest player in sports at the moment.
Nadal's most likely opponent in the final would be Djokovic, who would be ranked the No. 1 player in the world if he makes it that far. In that situation, a Nadal win would break Djokovic's 42-match winning streak, and hand the Serbian star his first loss in 2011.
If Nadal breaks Djokovic's streak to once again capture the French Open title, it will only add more substance to his legacy. While Roger Federer has the most career Grand Slam singles titles of all time, Nadal has handled him very nicely on clay throughout their careers.
One could argue that Nadal has had an easy road to winning his French Open championships in the past because there hasn't really been another top player with similar success on clay. Federer has by far been the best after Nadal during Nadal's wins at the Roland Garros, as four out of five times Nadal's path to the championship went through Federer (one semifinal, three finals).
That notion would be squashed if Nadal takes out Djokovic on Sunday. Djokovic has obviously had a great clay-court season (he hasn't lost a single match this year), defeating Nadal four times overall.
Not only would the win over Djokovic prove that Nadal can defeat a dangerous rival on clay, it would cement Nadal on top of the men's game again. Even though Djokovic would still technically be ranked No. 1, Nadal would be the winner of four of the last five majors.
I have not forgotten about Federer, nor written him off. Federer was the last player to defeat Djokovic some six months ago, and he has a chance to do it again on Friday. After Djokovic, Federer is the next most likely candidate to face Nadal in the final.
While Nadal has already proven he has a clear edge on clay against Federer, defeating the man who many believe to be the greatest player of all time in four French Open finals is still an amazing feat. If Nadal beats Federer on Sunday, Federer will be 0-4 in French Open finals against Nadal and a combined 16-4 in all other Grand Slam championship matches.
There are quite a few reasons why beating either Djokovic or Federer in the finals would help Nadal's legacy. But what would a title win mean for his legacy in general?
Nadal would improve his record at the French Open to 45-1.
He would tie Bjorn Borg for the most singles titles at Roland Garros with six, and is still in the prime of his career.
It would be his 10th major championship, moving himself into a tie with Bill Tilden for fifth place all-time.
Nadal is looking to avenge his losses to Djokovic earlier in the year. If they meet in the final at the 2011 French Open, it would be a huge match in determining the course of their careers. This match has the potential to outline the future direction of men's tennis.