- Associated Press - Saturday, June 9, 2012

PARIS (AP) - Rafael Nadal has played 52 matches at Roland Garros and walked off the court a winner all but once.

Three of those wins have come against Novak Djokovic, who hasn’t so much as taken a set off the king of the clay.

A mismatch? Try a must-see match _ if not because of the recent, six-hour drama they put on the last time a Grand Slam title was at stake, then because of the history that will be no matter who wins Sunday.

Nadal is going for his seventh title at the French Open, a number that would surpass the great Bjorn Borg.

Djokovic is trying to become the first man in 43 years to win four Grand Slam tournaments in a row.

Two men, their fates intertwined at almost every turn during this French Open, will dig the answers out of the dirt in Paris.

"I haven’t won a set against him in this court. All the facts are on his side," Djokovic said. "But, look, I feel different nowadays. I believe I’m at the peak of my career. I’m playing the best tennis of my life in last year and a half, and I should use that. I should use that as a confidence (boost) and try to get my hands on a title."

Speaking of confidence boosts, top-seeded Djokovic got one Friday in a 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 3 seed Roger Federer _ a match that wasn’t as close as it sounded. Playing the last man to beat him in a Grand Slam tournament, Djokovic bullied Federer around the court, overcame two breaks early in the second set and finished with a stat that was even more telling than the score: 17 unforced errors to 46 by Federer.

"It was difficult to attack," said Federer, who had as much trouble with Djokovic as the gusty winds that swept through Roland Garros yet again. "And being defensive _ I could have waited a little. But if I were to do this, I was playing for him. I was not here to play a good match but to win the match, so I had to hit the balls. It was a bit disappointing today."

And yet, it was a better show than the one that preceded it _ Nadal’s 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 whitewashing of sixth-seeded David Ferrer.

The Nadal blowout wasn’t all that unexpected.

Djokovic’s walk in the park against a 16-time major title winner was a bit more surprising.

"I have won against a great player today," Djokovic said. "First time I find myself on Sunday in Paris. Let’s see what I can do."

The last time Djokovic met Nadal with a Grand Slam title in the balance, he came out with a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5 victory in a match that took 5 hours, 53 minutes _ the longest Grand Slam singles final by time.

"It’s definitely the most exciting match I ever had in my career," Djokovic said.

That was on the hard courts Down Under. This time, Djokovic will have to solve the riddle of a player who has mastered the art of sliding into his shots on the moist, red clay and using his quickness and footwork to take advantage of the big bounces and balls that hang in the air forever.

The clay is supposed to blunt the effects of a big first serve, but don’t tell that to Nadal.

By winning all 11 service games against Ferrer, he improved to 71 for 72 over the tournament. That’s 98.6 percent _ unheard of on this surface.

Also nearly unheard of: A player who can go through six matches of Grand Slam competition and lose a grand total of 35 games. Only one player has posted a more impressive number: Borg. At the 1978 French Open, he lost 27 and in 1980 at Roland Garros, he dropped 31. He retired with six French Open titles and Nadal will surpass him with a win Sunday.

After the win over Ferrer, Nadal said he felt good about his game. Not long after, he was fielding questions about whether he played the perfect match.

"I really don’t like to talk about perfection because, in my opinion, that doesn’t exist," Nadal said. "You can always play better. But for sure, I’m very happy with how I’m playing."

While Nadal and Djokovic get a day off, on Saturday, Maria Sharapova looks to complete the career Grand Slam with a match against 21st-seeded Sara Errani, who already has a French Open title this year to her credit.

On Friday, Errani teamed with Roberta Vinci to defeat Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the women’s doubles final. With a win over Sharapova, Errani would become the first woman since Mary Pierce in 2000 to sweep the singles and doubles titles at Roland Garros.

"I just woke up and (thought) only about the doubles," Errani said. "Tomorrow, I will think about the singles. I don’t want to think now (about) tomorrow, because it’s not good. I prefer to relax, and tomorrow we will see."

She faces second-seeded Sharapova, who will rise to No. 1 in the world rankings when the new list is released next week.

Sharapova said she celebrated her return to No. 1 for the first time since 2008 with room service and a massage.

"That’s as good as it gets before a final," she said.

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