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Djokovic One Win Away From Historic Achievement

Paris, France

Djokovic© AFP/Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic will contest the Roland Garros final for the first time.

History will be made in Sunday’s Roland Garros final when World No. 1 Novak Djokovic faces No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal. At 25 years of age, Djokovic is bidding to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at one time. Meanwhile, the 26-year-old Nadal is looking to become the first man to win seven Roland Garros titles.

"There's a lot on the line," said Djokovic. "It always is when you're playing finals of a Grand Slam. We expect another emotional match, another big challenge for both of us, fighting for one of the four biggest titles in our sport. And of course the other side, for me personally, is that I have this golden opportunity to make history. This motivates me. It really inspires me. I'm really grateful to be in this position, obviously. I'll try to prepare for that match and get my hands on that trophy if I can." 

For a place in his first Roland Garros final, Djokovic defeated 2009 champion Roger Federer 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 on Friday afternoon in Paris. It was a re-match of the 2011 semi-finals, and saw Djokovic avenge the four-set defeat he had suffered to Federer.

Nadal takes an 18-14 lead over Djokovic in their FedEx ATP Head2Head Series into the final, but has lost their past three Grand Slam meetings. He finished runner-up to the Serb in the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open last year before losing a five-set thriller in the final of the Australian Open in January.

"He plays always his best here in Roland Garros, and so I expect to do that as well on Sunday," said Djokovic of Nadal. "I know that I have to be playing consistently well on a very high level in order to win best of five against Nadal here.

"It's an ultimate challenge. But I believe that today was the best match of 2012 Roland Garros for me, so I've raised my game when I needed to. I played really well when it was the most important, so that's something that gives me confidence obviously before the finals. Both of us want this title. We'll see who will prevail."

After that victory over Nadal in Melbourne, Djokovic is bidding to become the first player since Jim Courier in 1992 to win back-to-back Australian Open and Roland Garros titles. He is on a 27-match winning streak in major competitions, dating back to his defeat to Federer in last year’s semi-finals.

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Once the clouds cleared over south-west Paris, the second semi-final began with Federer in confident mood. Moving flawlessly, the Swiss gave Djokovic little time to recover by hitting his forehands early on the rise. The tactic reaped dividends with Djokovic falling to 15/40 at 2-2. Federer converted his second opportunity with a powerful forehand winner, but honours were soon even as Djokovic immediately broke back, to 30, for 3-3. Djokovic had weathered the storm, but Federer continued to flirt with the lines and over-pressed. The third seed fell to 15/40 at 4-5, two set points for Djokovic. The Serbian sealed the 34-minute set when Federer overcooked a forehand long. Djokovic hit 10 winners and committed just three unforced errors.

Federer continued to be aggressive, winning a 36-shot rally when Djokovic led 40/30 in the first game of the second set. The Swiss went onto convert a break point opportunity by hitting a smash winner. He soon took a 3-0 lead, to leave Djokovic breathing a little heavier, after a second service break to 30. But the World No. 1 responded, recovering to 2-3, to keep the pressure on. Federer could have made it 5-2, but failed to convert three break point chances. Would it cost him? It did. Federer initially became tentative and his forehand unforced error count increased. The pair exchanged service breaks, before Federer served for the set at 5-4. Djokovic held his nerve and won three straight games, converting his second set point chance when Federer ballooned a forehand long. Federer won 14 of his 35 service points in the 53-minute set, while Djokovic hit 11 winners and converted four of his five break point opportunities.

Federer paid the price for a spate of missed first serves in the sixth game. He recovered from 15/40, but Djokovic converted his third break point chance as Federer buried a forehand in the net. The 30-year-old Federer made Djokovic serve it out and the Serb opens up a 40/15 lead in the ninth game with a remarkable backhand passing shot. The Belgrade native missed his first match point with a forehand long, but converted his second opportunity with an unreturned serve. He claimed victory after two hours and five minutes, having hit 27 winners and capitalised on 46 unforced errors from Federer’s racquet.

"It's always an effort and it's always a challenge to be focused and play, take the maximum amount of your abilities out of these matches," reflected Djokovic. "That is the ask. That is something that you need to do if you want to be a winner at the end of matches against one of your biggest rivals."

Federer was looking to reach the Roland Garros final for the sixth time. He completed the career Grand Slam with victory in 2009 (d. Soderling) and lost out to Nadal in the finals in 2006-2008 and 2011. The Swiss has won a record 16 Grand Slam championships, but has not triumphed at a major since the 2010 Australian Open (d. Murray).

"I thought he played well under tough conditions," assessed Federer. "I wasn't able to sustain maybe a solid enough game today. I did have enough chances, so it's no excuse there. I tried, and it just didn't work out today.

"Semi-finals is, at the end of the day, a very good result for any tennis player. For me, too. I wish I could have done a bit better today, especially with the wasted opportunities. But that's how it goes sometimes. I've got to go change things around now for grass anyway. I'm looking forward to that. It's been a difficult clay court season." 

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