PARIS — It doesn’t sound right, but can the sixth time be the charm? Novak Djokovic sure hopes so.
The standout Serb on Sunday will face Rafael Nadal at the French Open for the sixth time — this time in the men’s singles final. Nadal won their first five matchups at Roland Garros, where he has won 65 of 66 matches all-time, including 34 straight victories.
Last year’s showdown in the semifinals was Djokovic’s best shot at Nadal yet, but the Spaniard won in five draining sets.
Here are five things to watch as the action concludes in Paris:
1. NADAL VS. DJOKOVIC
No. 1 seed Nadal is bidding for a ninth championship at Roland Garros. No. 2 Djokovic is eyeing his first, which would complete a career Grand Slam. Whoever wins will be ranked No. 1 on Monday. And there should be very few surprises during the match.
“We know each other very well,” Nadal said.
This will be their 42nd matchup, more than any other pair of men in the Open era, which began in 1968. It’s also their 12th Grand Slam meeting, another record — one more than Nadal and Djokovic each have played Roger Federer at the majors.
2. ‘MENTALLY STRONG’
Nadal leads the head-to-head series 22-19, including 8-3 at Slams and 5-0 at the French Open. But Djokovic won their previous four matches, including on clay in the final at Rome last month. The coaches of both dismissed the significance of that.
“You know Rafa. He is mentally strong. He (forgot about) that match,” said Marian Vajda, who works with Djokovic.
Said Toni Nadal, Rafael’s uncle and coach: “It’s true that Novak beat Rafael in Rome, but it’s true that Rafael has won many matches here in this court.”
Well, yes: His nephew is 65-1 here, after all.
3. THE PAST TWO YEARS
From 2006-08, Nadal denied Federer a career Grand Slam by beating him in the French Open final. (Federer eventually got his hands on the trophy in 2009, defeating Soderling in the final)
Djokovic’s first shot at completing a set of major titles with one from Paris came in the 2012 final, which was spread over two days because of rain.
Nadal won that one 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. In last year’s semifinals, Djokovic was up a break in the fifth set and serving at 4-3, 40-all, when he hit a volley smash winner, but his momentum pushed him into the net.
Players are not allowed to touch the net, so Djokovic — who argued that his shot already had cleared the court and couldn’t be reached by Nadal — lost the point. Nadal went on to win 9-7.
In many ways, Djokovic and Nadal are similar. They are among the game’s best movers — Nadal powering his way around the court, Djokovic twisting his body this way and that.
They defend tremendously and switch to offense with zero hesitation. They also are top returners.
All of that adds up to long points, particularly on clay. One key could be how well Nadal’s backhand holds up. It was a trouble spot in the quarterfinals against David Ferrer, prompting Nadal to run around that side and hit his uppercut of a forehand as much as possible.
Nadal loved the sudden turn from two weeks of cloudy, chilly conditions to sun and warmth in the semifinals, because his big topspin forehand is much more effective when it’s hot and dry.
Djokovic appeared to struggle a bit with the change in weather. There’s a chance of rain Sunday morning and again in the evening, but it’s supposed to be clear when they play in the afternoon. The temperature is supposed to approach 80 degrees.