Rafael Nadal will go for a record ninth French Open title tomorrow against Novak Djokovic in a repeat of the 2012 final at the clay-court Grand Slam tennis tournament.
The top-seeded Nadal beat Wimbledon title holder Andy Murray 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 in Paris yesterday after second-seeded Djokovic beat Ernests Gulbis of Latvia 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
"I played my best tennis at Roland Garros this year," Nadal said of his performance against the Briton. "After 10 years, to come here to play my ninth final, I never dreamed that would be possible."
In today's women's singles final, 2012 champion Maria Sharapova of Russia will take on fourth-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, who is in her first Grand Slam final. Sharapova, seeded seventh, was runner-up to Serena Williams last year.
Nadal, who is trying to become the first man to win five French Open titles in a row, dropped four points on his first serve and didn't face a break point against Murray. He produced 24 winners and 15 unforced errors, compared with 11 winners and 26 mistakes for Murray. Nadal, whose only loss in Paris was in 2009, has won 15 of 20 meetings with Murray, who said his return was "off."
"It was a tough day for me, a bad day," Murray said. "I need to bounce back from this. I'm not particularly happy with how I played."
Nadal leads Djokovic 22-19 in matches between the two, including five wins at Roland Garros, and has to win tomorrow to keep the top ranking. If he loses, Djokovic will take over as No. 1 the following day. Djokovic enters the final on a 4-0 streak against the champion, which includes a win on clay in Rome last month.
"He will come to the final with good confidence," said Nadal. "But I'm playing better here day by day."
Murray spent more than 4 1/2 hours longer on court to get to the semifinals than his opponent, and it showed. The Scot quickly dropped the first set, shouting "no legs" after losing a point. Murray played two five-set matches to get to the last four, while Nadal dropped one set, to fellow Spaniard David Ferrer in the quarterfinals.
"There were a few too many sets this week," Murray said.
Left-hander Nadal, who told reporters last week he'd been taking some pace off his serve because of back pain, won the second set on his fourth love game.
The Spaniard gave up two points on his serve in the first two sets and won the point on his first serve 91 percent of the time. Murray had a first-serve percentage of 63 percent, which dipped to 45 percent in the third set as Nadal dictated play with topspin ground strokes.
In the first semifinal, Djokovic overcame heat and an erratic opponent to move to his second French Open final. Djokovic made 25 unforced errors to 44 by Gulbis, who produced 40 winners, 10 more than his opponent.
"The first two sets were very good for me, after that he played with fewer errors," Djokovic said in a courtside interview. "It was very difficult for me to concentrate. The conditions were tough."
Djokovic, a four-time Australian Open champion, has also won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. At Roland Garros, Nadal beat Djokovic in last year's semifinals and the title match two years ago.
Watched by former champion Bjorn Borg, Djokovic broke his opponent's serve in his third service game. Gulbis, who will move to No. 10 when the rankings are published next week, lost the first set with a backhand error and dropped the second as he netted a forehand, his 28th mistake.
Gulbis took the third set as his error count dropped to five and Djokovic's climbed to nine. Djokovic then broke for a 2-0 lead in the fourth, only to give up the advantage before winning the match on his first chance on another Gulbis error.
"He was more consistent, especially in the end," Gulbis told reporters. "That was all the difference."
To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh in Paris at drossinghbloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celserbloomberg.net Dex McLuskey, Rob Gloster