By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – The past will not mean anything to Rafa Nadal when he takes on world number one Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s French Open final with two more milestones up for grabs.
The Spaniard, who has dominated the claycourt major for over a decade, will be eyeing a record-extending 13th Roland Garros title and a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam crown when he resumes an old rivalry with Serbia’s Djokovic.
Nadal marched into his 13th French Open final by defeating Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-3 7-6(0) on Friday, ensuring the Argentine would not become the third player to beat him twice on clay in the same season, a feat only achieved by Djokovic, twice, and by Italian Fabio Fognini.
The second-seeded Spaniard has lost only two of 101 matches at Roland Garros, one of them against Djokovic in the quarter-finals in 2015.
The Serbian, however, has lost to Nadal twice in the final in 2012 and 2014, and four other times in earlier rounds.
World number two Nadal said none of that will matter on Sunday.
“Different circumstances, different kind of tournament and different situation,” the 34-year-old told a news conference.
“I can’t predict the future… The only thing I know is to play against Novak, I need to play my best. Without playing my best tennis, the situation is very difficult.”
No other player knows court Philippe Chatrier quite as well as Nadal does.
“I know that is a court that I have been playing well for such a long time, so that helps,” he said.
“But at the same time he has an amazing record here, too, being in the final rounds almost every single time.
“He is one of the toughest opponents possible. But I am here to keep trying my best. I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. I think I did one today.”
Nadal avenged his defeat to Schwartzman at the Italian Open by playing “with a plan, with the right determination” and “tactically the right match”.
He believes, however, he will need to step up a gear against Djokovic.
“For Sunday it’s not enough. I need to make another step forward. That’s what I’m looking for. I am going to work hard to try to make that happen,” he said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)