For the first time in 21 years, the top four seeds have reached the semifinals of the French Open in Paris.
And while many purists may be hoping for a dream Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final, two very in-form players are determined to spoil the party.
Switzerland’s world number one Federer will be up first on Friday against Argentinian David Nalbandian, one of the few players against whom he has a losing record.
Neither is a clay specialist but Nalbandian feels physical conditioning will have more of a bearing on the result than the surface.
”I have won and lost against him on all surfaces,” Nalbandian said. ”The surface is not what I’m worried about. It’s more on what the conditions will be, how fit we are.”
Reigning champion Nadal, the pair’s most likely final opponent, also thinks it will be a tight match to call.
When asked who he thought the favourite was, he replied: ”Who is the number one? He is the favourite but for sure Nalbandian can beat him.”
Nalbandian’s 6-5 head-to-head advantage, though, owes much to the fact that he won the pair’s first five meetings, before Federer started to dominate men’s tennis.
Although he has since lost five of the last six, he did win the most important of those at last year’s Masters Cup final in Shanghai where he came back from two sets to love down to claim the title, 7-6 in the decider.
Nalbandian is at a career-high number three in the world and has already proved his class on clay this year, winning in Estoril last month before falling at the semifinal of the Rome Masters, to Federer 7-6 in the decider.
Nalbandian also reached the semis of the Australian Open and the Miami Masters this season.
Someone he has not fared so well against, this season at least, is Ljubicic, failing to take a set off the Croatian in two meetings this campaign.
Nalbandian may well be relieved, then, not to be facing the big-serving number four seed but Nadal will have few worries.
World number two Nadal leads their series 2-1 – all of which have been played on hard courts — and has won the last two, including the final of the Madrid Masters last year when he came back from two sets down to take the title, his 12th and final one of the season.
Ljubicic feels that will have no bearing on this match, though. ”It’s very difficult to compare matches,” he said. ”He played at home, that’s one reason he won. He was really down but the crowd got him back up.
”We are here in Paris, it’s clay, it’s completely different. It’s not wise to compare. I have never played Rafa on clay and I am just really glad that the first time is in the semifinals of Roland Garros.”
Looking ahead to the semifinal after seeing off teenager Novak Djokovic in the quarters, Nadal said: ”It will be a tough match in the semifinal for sure. Any player who reaches the semis is playing well and with confidence.
”Any player will be tough, I will have to play well and concentrate 100% for the victory.”
But Ljubicic is probably the most improved player on tour over the last 12 months and has even found he can adapt his game to clay.
He has actually won more matches than anyone else this season, even Federer, although he has played considerably more tournaments than both Nadal and the Swiss world number one.
Although holding the most wins — 39 to Federer’s 38 and Nadal’s 33 — he has lost eight matches to just three defeats each for the other two. But he is undaunted by Nadal’s 58-match winning streak on clay.
”I’m not impressed with that streak,” he said. ”It’s fantastic but he was close to losing many times. It has to end some time and I’m absolutely convinced I can beat him.
”You know more or less what you are going to get from Rafa but I would be more worried about Roger.” – AFP