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Tennis: Nadal plays down favourite tag as history calls

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Rafael Nadal has played down his role as favourite for an historic eighth French Open title and expects David Ferrer to make the most of his maiden Grand Slam final appearance on Sunday.

Defending champion Nadal will become the first man to win the same major eight times if he beats compatriot Ferrer who has made his first Grand Slam final at the 42nd time of asking.

"I don't feel favourite. I feel that I am a finalist," said Nadal.

Despite his modesty, the 27-year-old Spaniard, who was in tears after his marathon semi-final victory over world number one Novak Djokovic, has everything stacked in his favour.

He has won 58 out of 59 matches at Roland Garros and boasts a 19-4 winning record over Ferrer. Sixteen of those wins have been on clay.

The 31-year-old Ferrer has won just one of their claycourt encounters and that was their first career meeting in 2004 when Nadal was only 16.

"David didn't lose a set during the whole tournament, so he's a player that brings you to the limit. He's a player that if you are not playing perfect you will be in big, big trouble."

The Paris weather, which has been particularly fickle this year, looks certain to also play a major role with heavy showers expected Sunday afternoon and evening.

That could force the final into the third Monday as happened last year when Nadal defeated Djokovic for his seventh title.

Nadal has been the sensation of 2013, winning 42 of 44 matches and six titles since his return in February from a seven-month injury lay-off to rest his troublesome knees.

But he has spent six hours more on court than Ferrer in Paris and needed the best part of five hours to defeat Djokovic on Friday.

"When these kind of matches happen you suffer, but I really enjoy these moments. I really enjoy suffering, because what's harder is when I am in Mallorca last year and I had to watch these kind of matches on the TV," said the seven-time champion.

Nadal and Ferrer have been friends and Davis Cup teammates for over 10 years and are regular partners when it comes to video games.

That friendship will be put aside on Sunday with Nadal, who is playing in his 17th Grand Slam final and seeking a 12th major title, wary of anyone who writes off Ferrer.

"Tennis is a fair sport, and if somebody deserves to win titles, to be in the finals of a Grand Slam, it is David," said Nadal.

"It's like And Murray in the US Open. He deserved to be the winner of a Grand Slam because he was in that position to be the winner a lot of times. So if somebody deserved to win a Grand Slam it was Andy.

"Somebody deserves to be in the final of a Grand Slam it is David. His level of tennis is higher every year. He's always playing at a very high level."

Ferrer has already lost three times to his countryman in 2013, again all on clay.

"It's a dream for me to be in the final of a Grand Slam, and Roland Garros is more important for me," said Ferrer.

"I will fight. It's very difficult to beat Rafael on all the surfaces, but on a clay court it is more difficult. I think I need to play my best tennis to beat him."

Sunday's match will be the fourth all-Spanish final at a Grand Slam and all have come in Paris.

Sergio Bruguera beat Alberto Berasategui in 1994, Carlos Moya saw off Alex Corretja four years later while, in 2002, Albert Costa got the better of Juan Carlos Ferrero.

Reaching a Roland Garros final, however, has occasionally come at a cost.

Sweden's Robin Soderling, the only man to defeat Nadal at the French Open when he stunned the champion in the fourth round in 2009 on his way to the championship match, has been off the tour for over a year battling mononucleosis.

"Sometimes I wish I'd been doing bowling or something, so I would have been left alone when ill," he said at a recent news conference when he blasted media interest in his illness.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130609/tennis-nadal-plays-down-favourite-tag-history-calls