|Rafael Nadal was favourite to beat his great rival Roger Federer in the semifinal, and so it proved [AFP]
From a statistician's point of view, the men's final of the Madrid Open 2011 on Sunday could not be more enticing.
Both finalists come into the match with a 30-plus winning streak, one for the entire year 2011, the other in consecutive matches won on clay, including last year's French Open final.
One of those runs must end in this intriguing final in the Spanish capital.
There on the one side of the net will be, as always these past three editions of the 'Caja Magica', Rafael Nadal.
The home favourite dropped a disputed first set against his eternal rival Roger Federer before breezing rather comfortably, if that can ever be the case against Federer, to a 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 triumph.
Overall it was the 16th win for 'Rafa', coming against eight losses.
The statistics also reveal that most of those triumphs came on clay, where Saturday's clash of the titans was played out, albeit in the rather faster confines of the covered version of the magic box.
A storm had passed by earlier in the day and the roof was closed.
What the statistics don't show are the small, fine details of a match which had an overwhelming favourite from the start: Nadal.
The dozens of cameras at courtside were pointed mostly his way during the opening exchanges, and a split second before each shot their shutters clicked ever so softly in unison, a strange buzzing as if that of moths fluttering close to the light.
And who knows for how long this rivalry of an entire era, what used to be the Agassi – Sampras matches a while ago, will continue to be played out in the limelight of the ATP tour.
"We'll find out the magnitude of our rivalry when we both retire," Federer had said before the match.
The Swiss legend turns 30 this August. Will he indeed miss having Nadal on the other side of the net when he retires? One wonders.
On the other side of the net in Sunday's final will be Novak Djokovic, the Serbian world number two who looked for a long while like being ousted by Brazilian surprise package Thomaz Bellucci.
The classy left-hander who is coached by 'Guga' Kuerten's mentor Larry Passos, led by a set and a break.
But the package was returned to sender without being entirely opened.
A final would have been a massive step forward in Bellucci's career.
Thus it remained a magnificent achievement to push Djokovic all the way, before the in-form player of the tour this year edged the match: 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
In the final set, the Brazilian simply ran out of steam, having pounded massive serves and streaking forehands into all corners and angles of the court until then.
And before Djokovic and Nadal fight out their duel to see which winning streak snaps in Madrid, there will be the women's final.
Fourth seed Victoria Azarenka will take to the court against 16th seed Petra Kvitova.
Source: Al Jazeera