June 09 | 06

Rafa won his 59th consecutive clay court match today against Ivan Ljubicic 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(7) to reach the French Open final for the second year in a row. In the match, which lasted two hours and 49 minutes, Rafa had to draw an all his reserves to see off his Croatian opponent who refused to give up without a fight in his first ever Grand Slam semi final.

Before the match there were concerns as to how Rafa would handle the extremely windy conditions in Paris, but it was Ljubicic who seemed more bothered by the wind and swirling red clay early on in the match as Rafa raced into a 4-1 lead. The Majorcan started in red hot form, and a backhand passing shot secured the double break for him in the first set.

Perhaps a little surprised to race to such a commanding lead straight away, Rafa did surrender one of his breaks of serve as Ljubicic began to settle down and find some success at the net. The Croat put some pressure on Rafa as he held on for 5-4 and saved two set points which Rafa had when Ljubicic was serving to stay in the set. But Rafa thrived on the pressure and raised his game in serving for the set, finishing on a tremendous point which saw Rafa finally get the better on Ljubicic with a forehand down the line.

Rafa ensured he stamped his authority early on in the second set as he broke the Ljubicic serve promptly after the break. Having saved break points on his own serve Rafa hung tight in a long Ljubicic service game and after missing a handful of break points he finally got the break at his third opportunity with a forehand cross court winner.

The rest of the set was one way traffic as Ljubicic's trusty first serve deserted him a little and Rafa pounced on this immediately going for a second break of serve. At 3-1, more great play from Rafa saw him present himself with break points and he took his second to take a 4-1 lead. Two love service games from Rafa helped him see out the set 6-2 and take a promising two sets to love lead in the semi final.

The crowds had turned out for semi finals day at Roland Garros, including plenty of celebrities, amongst them Leonardo DiCaprio, and they were not disappointed in the third set. Ljubicic found his first serve again and hit a tremendous amount of winners on his way to forcing Rafa into a tie break.

Rafa was under a lot of pressure in the breaker with Ljubicic having served so well throughout the set, but it was the 20 year old defending champion who played the bigger points better in the tie break. His second ace of the tie break set him up with his second match point at 8-7 and a great passing shot forced Ljubicic to volley wide and Rafa jumped into the air in delight at reaching the final.

And what a final it will be. He will face world number one, Roger Federer who earlier had defeated David Nalbandian after the Argentine was forced to retire in the third set due to an abdominal strain with the match delicately balanced at one set all. It was a disappointing outcome for the Parisian crowd, but Sunday's final match-up will more than make up for that. It is the final that everyone has hoped for, a chance to continue the rivalry between the top two players in the world. Roger Federer is desperate to capture the only Grand Slam that so far eludes him, and it would set him up to win The Grand Slam - winning all four Grand Slams inside one calendar year.

However the Swiss has a very difficult match against Rafa before he can look to that feat. The two have played three times already this year with Rafa having won all three encounters, including the final of the clay court Masters Series event in Monte Carlo and the epic TMS Rome final. There head to head currently lies at 5-1 in Rafa's favour with Rafa having won all of their matches on clay. When RafaelNadal.com spoke to Rafa's coach, Uncle Toni, in Majorca before the French Open, he agreed that the world's best two players had a very intense rivalry:

"I think it doesn't matter which surface they play on, clay or hard court. They played on a hard court in Miami, then later in Dubai he (Rafa) won in three sets and on clay, well, it's also very difficult. So it's all very complicated."

Federer agreed, commenting after his match: "I think Rome and Monte Carlo showed that we were sort of the best players on clay this season, and that I could be expected, you know. Because not only are we No. 1 and No. 2 in the world, but also, let's say the best two on clay right now."

This eagerly anticipated final will be played on Sunday afternoon at Roland Garros and if Rafa wins he will be the first man to defend his Roland Garros title since Gustavo Kuerten in 2001. Make sure you check back regularly as we bring you all the latest from this exciting finale to the 2006 French Open. Vamos, Rafa!

Written by: Kate Flory