Tennis: Nadal and Djokovic both eyeing history in Paris

Rafael Nadal is chasing Bjorn Borg, Novak Djokovic is eyeing tennis history and all while free-rolling Roger Federer is hoping to trump both his two great rivals.

Welcome to the 2012 French Open, sure to be a cracker one way or other.

As ever, Nadal has landed in Paris as the man to beat, if that's at all possible, after another supreme claycourt season that has so far yielded three more titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome and 16 wins from 17 matches on his deadly surface.

The perennial favourite's sole defeat came on wretched blue court in Madrid against fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, hardly Nadal's Kryptonite having lost all previous 13 encounters with the 10-times grand slam champion.

Nadal is odds-on with bookmakers to break Borg's modern-day mark of six French titles and become the first man in 99 years to win seven Roland Garros crowns.

Champion in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2011, another successful campaign would extend his crazy record in Paris to 52 wins and just one loss, in the fourth round three years ago to Robin Soderling when battling his chronic knee injury.

Only the brave would back against the 25-year-old from triumphing again to close to within one title of Max Decugis's all-time record haul of eight French Open crowns accrued in the early 1900s - when the tournament was for club members only.

"I have the confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level," Nadal said after denying Djokovic in last week's Rome final.

"Hopefully I will keep playing like this."

Even Djokovic, bidding for his own slice of history as he attempts to complete a grand slam sweep of all four majors - and the first since Rod Laver in 1969 - concedes Nadal "is always the favourite".

"He is the best player in the world on this surface," the Serb said after his loss in the Italian capital.

Still, with seven victories over Nadal in their past nine meetings and also having the wood over Federer in recent years, Djokovic has high hopes.

"I cannot say I'm not thinking about it. There is the possibility to win four in a row. I want to deliver my best game. I'm feeling good on the court," said the world No.1, a three-times semi-finalist without ever reaching the title match in Paris.

Less than three months shy of his 31st birthday, Federer should be slowing down.

Instead, the 16-times major champion is racking up titles as fast as ever, a tour-best four already in 2012.

The brilliant Swiss will also be buoyed by the fact he halted Djokovic's incredible 43-match win sequence last year at Roland Garros.

"There are exciting times ahead for me. I'm winning so many events and playing so well. I believe that I can win the slams," Federer said.

"I know the difficulty of the French. The focus will be on Novak, who is going for four slams in a row, and on Rafa because he's the defending champion."

Depending on the draw on Friday (2130 NZT), Djokovic will be seeded to meet either Federer or fourth seed Andy Murray in the semi-finals - and Nadal in the championship match.

Second seed Nadal will face the other and, having conquered Federer in four previous finals in Paris, plus a semi, one would imagine the draw will provide Djokovic more anxious moments than it will worry the Spaniard.

-AAP

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