PARIS -- In French, they're ''les deux gauchers" -- the two lefthanders. At the French Open, one of them will become ''le champion."
Teen prodigy Rafael Nadal and Argentine journeyman Mariano Puerta meet today in the first all-lefty men's final at Roland Garros since 1946 and the first in any Grand Slam event since 1998.
At No. 5 in the rankings, Nadal is the top-ranked lefthander and the only one in the top 20, allowing him to hit shots at angles other players seldom see. But that advantage will be neutralized against Puerta, third-highest in the rankings among lefties and 37th overall.
''We both have the same sort of strokes," Puerta said. ''It's going to be a good match."
Nadal is a big favorite in the wake of his semifinal victory over top-ranked Roger Federer. The young Spaniard's heavy topspin from the left side had Federer off-balance and indecisive about where to attack, and he committed 62 unforced errors.
Lefthanded Grand Slam champions were once common. They included Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Puerta's Argentine compatriot, Guillermo Vilas.
Aspiring to join that group is Nadal, who is strong, fast, creative, and thus far unfazed by the Grand Slam stage.
The win over Federer came on Nadal's 19th birthday, but the Mallorcan is no giddy kid, and he quickly noted that there's still one match to play.
''I'm very happy, but not euphoric," he said. ''I still have my feet firmly on the ground. I know I have, if not the most important match of my life, then very close to it."
After the buzz that accompanied the Nadal-Federer showdown, the final may seem anticlimactic -- but not to the unseeded Puerta. At 26, he arrived in Paris with a career Grand Slam record of 8-15.
But Puerta's dogged baseline game is to be admired, and he survived consecutive three-hour five-setters to reach the final.
''I can't believe that I'm going to play in the final of Roland Garros," the outgoing Puerta said. ''It really is amazing."
Does Puerta think he can win today?
''I don't know," he said. ''I'm not sure. But I'm very happy with this final."
Nadal, meanwhile, ended Federer's best run yet at Roland Garros, leaving the Swiss star still lacking the only title he needs to complete a career Grand Slam.
Federer is 0 for 2 in major events this year, and now Nadal is the game's hottest player. Today he'll bid for his 24th consecutive victory, which would surpass Andre Agassi for the longest winning streak by a male teenager in the Open era.
''I would pick him as the favorite, for what he has gone through," Federer said. ''But he would be a little bit stupid if he would underestimate Puerta. I think he knows the danger."
Playing a lefty is always dicey, but Nadal is 2-0 against Puerta and beat lefthander Ricardo Mello in Brazil in February. If he wins today, Nadal will become the first lefthanded men's champion at Roland Garros since Thomas Muster in 1995.
And if he loses, Puerta will happily claim the honor.