June 6, 2014 / 7:21 PM / 5 years ago

Nadal faces pressure test against rival Djokovic

PARIS (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal knows he will have to find a way of dealing with Novak Djokovic’s pressure game if he is going to beat his great rival and win a ninth French Open title, the Spaniard said on Friday.

Rafael Nadal of Spain adjusts his head band during his men's semi-final match against Andy Murray of Britain at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris June 6, 2014. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Premature predictions that now might be a good time to face Nadal on the Paris clay were emphatically swept aside as he crushed Wimbledon champion Andy Murray to win their semi-final 6-3 6-2 6-1 with an awe-inspiring display.

With quick-fire forehands, strong serves and accurate groundstrokes, Nadal did almost everything right to reach Sunday’s showpiece where Serbia’s world number two awaits.

“I need to be able to manage the pressure because he puts a lot of pressure on me and I rush on my returns,” Nadal told reporters.

Ever the perfectionist, he knows he still has to fine-tune a few details before Sunday’s final.

“I have started preparing quite well over the last few days. I have prepared quite a lot,” said Nadal who did not concede a single break point against Murray.

“I need to improve my return a bit more. Today I managed to have my backhand a bit better than before. I need to be a bit more patient.”

Nadal, hoping to become the first man to win five consecutive French Open titles, showed signs of nerves in the early claycourt season, losing three matches on his favorite surface - a first in the run-up to Roland Garros.

Djokovic got the better of the Spaniard at the Rome Masters in May while compatriots Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer also claimed surprise wins.

“I was playing with more nerves, more anxiety than usual ... it was a new feeling for me on clay - the fact that I was not able to find my real game,” the Spaniard said of his form earlier in the claycourt swing.

Facing Nadal at Roland Garros, however, is an entirely different prospect, as Ferrer discovered when he was mauled 4-6 6-4 6-0 6-1 in the quarter-finals.

Double grand slam champion Murray fared even worse, prompting Nadal to admit his game was coming together at the perfect moment.

“I said the other day that I was practicing better than a long time ago so that’s the reason for today’s result,” said Nadal.

“Today I played as well as I practiced. I think I played very well with my forehand. I think it was important to serve the way I served today.

“The first shot with my forehand starts to be very positive because I am able to take the advantage from the first shot. And then I am able to hit a few forehands in a row.”

Nadal’s forehand is his comfort zone and Sunday’s match could hinge on whether Djokovic allows him the time to tee it up.

“On my forehand everything is fine,” he said. “It’s very fast, very powerful and I’m very happy.”

Editing by Toby Davis

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