Rafael Nadal (above) celebrated his 25th birthday after beating Andy Murray in Friday's semifinals, but the biggest party may be yet to come. (AP)
We asked SI.com's experts to predict Sunday's French Open men's final between No. 1 Rafael Nadal and No. 3 Roger Federer (9 a.m. ET, NBC). Here's what they said:
I picked Nadal at the start of the tournament and I’ll stick with him. Rafa knows the Roland Garros clay the way Huck Finn knew the Mississippi. He's fully aware of what’s at stake and -- despite the self-deprecation and relentless modesty -- has a taste for battle and a pride in being first, not second. He’ll come out aggressively, frustrate with his defense and, it says here, win in four sets. Nadal in four.
Federer certainly turned back the clock against Novak Djokovic, and this is certainly his best Slam performance since Australia 2010. But Rafa in a Roland Garros final, even if he's been spotty? I'll go conventional wisdom here. Nadal in five.
If Federer clocks his forehand and first serve as well as he did for substantial chunks of the semifinal, he'll make a match of it. But it's Sunday, it's Paris and it's Nadal, who seems to have found his game again at just the right time. Nadal in four.
I picked Nadal to win the tournament, and I still feel that way, although my heart leans toward Federer after his inspiring takedown of Novak Djokovic in the semifinals. The great man is back; what an inspiring development. What a boon for the men’s game, triggering who’s-best debates likely to continue all summer. When it comes to Federer vs. Nadal on clay, however, some well-proven truths will come to the fore. In the face of his own rampant skepticism, Nadal has risen to glory once again. He finishes the job on Sunday. Nadal in four.
Bryan Armen Graham
The romantic in me says Federer, at 29, delivers the Perry Mason of closing arguments in his case for G.O.A.T. by doing the one thing few thought he could: beating Nadal in a French Open final. The pragmatist says Nadal is 44-1 lifetime at Roland Garros. And he's 6-0 against Federer in five-set matches on clay, including three increasingly lopsided French Open finals. (Rafa's 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 masterclass in 2008 was Federer's worst loss in 173 Grand Slam matches.) So, yeah, I'll take Nadal. But I would have taken Foreman over Ali, too. Nadal in three.
It seems that while we were all distracted by one of the greatest streaks in sports, we lucked into the final we’ve long been clamoring for -- only the usual protagonists have switched parts. This time it’s Federer who’s surging with self-belief and Rafa who’s experiencing a crisis of confidence. Much as I want to overthink how differently Federer’s semi could have gone had Djokovic not come into the match off of a four-day layoff, I can’t overstate how important Fed’s “upset” was for his head. For years he owned Djokovic, then (briefly) Djokovic owned him -- and Federer sets things right again. (At least for the moment.) A victory like that could be just the impetus Fed needs to evict Nadal, who’s lived in Federer’s head long enough to take out a second mortgage. Federer in four.
Click here for SI.com’s women’s final picks. Share your prediction in the comments below.