Federer, Nadal play for the Madrid Open

This was what tennis fans across the world have waited exactly a year to see. Now they will.

Roger Federer against Rafael Nadal, the two greatest players of their generation will go head to head on a Sunday evening at the Caja Magica in the Madrid Masters final. If you love this game, you will not want to miss it.

This time last year, Federer beat the Spaniard in front of his own disbelieving fans. Both men appear to be in great shape physically and both are full of confidence.

Not that their paths to the final were easy. In the afternoon of another cool day, Nadal was forced to relinquish the first set against his fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro - only the second set he has lost in three clay court tournaments this spring - before finding his service rhythm to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Then Federer overcame Nadal's good friend, David Ferrer, but he, too, lost a set as the amazing little baseliner chased everything in sight, just as he had against Andy Murray in a superbly played encounter the previous night. The difference was Federer's ability to get himself out of trouble with that lethal first serve - a weapon Murray seems to have mislaid - and, of course, the change of direction and rhythm that takes a player like Ferrer out of his comfort zone. This was the 10th time Federer had played Ferrer, and the Spaniard has yet to win.

After last year, when serious questions were raised about the state of Nadal's knees and his general state of health, he is obviously back where he wants to be. He is prepared for the French Open and the attempt to regain the crown that was wrested from him so unexpectedly by Robin Soderling last year.

Speaking in Spanish, Nadal then laid out his philosophy of life. "Well, I'm almost 24," he said. "If I'm not motivated, it would not be very good for me. Not just in tennis but in life, you have to be excited about what you do at 24. I love playing tennis. I love competition and I love to be where I am. I want to be up there and move on. I don't mean to say that I am good, but I want to be better. I mean that I want to play at a great level and I want to improve. This gives you personal pride and satisfaction to see that you are able to supersede yourself."

That's a champion talking and it is going to take another champion to get the better of him on clay this year. Federer says he is excited at the prospect. "A year ago I felt sure we would meet again at the French or Wimbledon or even the US Open but it just never happened," he said. "Either I didn't show up in the final or he didn't. Then when his ranking fell below No. 2, I thought we might meet in the semis but that never happened either. So it's great we can face off again."

Nadal, playing a few mind games, has been suggesting his Swiss friend is the big favorite but Roger is not falling for that one. "Oh, sure, I'm a big favorite - huge," he said, laughing. "Actually, it just depends where you are coming from. He's been playing really well, and I'm finding my form again. I think the altitude did help me last year, but this time we will be playing a couple of hours later in the day and the ball might move slower. But he likes a lively ball with bounce so that he can get all that incredible spin on it. And, of course, he moves so well - clay is all about movement."

So take your pick. No matter what Rafa says, I would make him the favorite, but with Roger, you never know. Tune in and enjoy.

Meanwhile, Venus Williams strides on. She beat Shahar Peer, who has been playing exceptionally these past few weeks, 6-3, 6-0, in the day's first semifinal and now plays Aravane Rezai of France in Sunday's final. Rezai, ranked 24 in the world and, like Peer (22) moving up, had a fortunate and somewhat unhappy passage to her first final at this level when Lucie Safarova of the Czech Reoublic was forced to retire with a thigh injury after losing the first set, 6-1.

I can't remember Venus playing with such verve and confidence since she won the Sony Ericsson WTA Championship finals in Doha in 2008. But that was on hardcourts, her favorite surface. This is on clay, which has always been a challenge for Venus - not that you would know it from the way she has performed this week. She should win here, and don't rule out the possibility of her grabbing the one Grand Slam that has eluded her so far at Roland Garros next month.