Following two weeks of slugging and sloshing, the best two tennis players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, fittingly resume there rivalry on the only Slam championship stage they have yet to meet on: The French Open final.
Unbelievably, Rafa and Novak are appearing in their fourth straight final together! And after losing those first three Nadal absolutely has to be out for blood and on Sunday and I think he gets it.
But Djokovic is living a charmed life. Some might say there’s a destiny thing happening. The Serb overcame a two-set hole to Andreas Seppi last Sunday, the pulled off another great escape saving four matchpoints against JW Tsonga. And since being one misstep away on that very ledge, Djokovic has responded winning five straight sets including a whipping yesterday over Roger Federer.
Speaking of whipping, it’s been a long time since someone has looked as good as Nadal has this week on the dirt. The Spaniard has only lost serve once (ONCE!) and really he hasn’t come close to dropping a set. After destroying his friend, countryman and a player who is arguably the third or fourth best claycourter in the world, David Ferrer, Rafa says he’s peaking.
And that’s bad news for Novak because he’s next for Nadal.
Not only is Nadal looking to get back in the Slam win column after losing to last three – a win puts him just 5 from Federer, but his Royal Clayness is also playing at the height of his powers. Meanwhile, Djokovic may be riding that “house money” wave, but his game is no where near where it was a year ago when he rocked Rafa in consecutive Masters finals.
But karma, destiny, immortality or whatever you want to call it trumps almost everything. I said the biggest problems for Djokovic winning the French Open would be a) beating Nadal; and, b) handling the pressure of finishing the “Djoker Slam”.
For me saving those matchpoints will go a long, long way to easing the pressure. But can it help him beat Nadal? No.
Looking at the the keys to the match. For Nadal it’s getting past the mental block of those losses to Novak in the last three Slam finals, maintain that high ridiculous level and continue serving well – Novak can really take advantage of Rafa’s second serve.
For Novak, he’s got to embrace the challenge (winning the Djoker Slam by beating Nadal on Chatrier), tighten up that game to 2011 form, serve well, come out quick and not fear Nadal.
Bottom line here is Nadal is playing great. Djokovic simply isn’t.
That said, Novak has a great game to match up with Nadal. He’s got the rock-solid, laser backhand to neutralize the Rafa’s forehand-to-backhand money shot – in fact he probably prefers that exchange. Because of an elite return game Novak also has the ability to chomp on Rafa’s second serve allowing him to dictate the point early and perhaps force Nadal, who’s been serving great, to ease up on his first delivery. Additionally, Novak can play defense with anyone and his flexibility gives him the power to strike from almost anywhere at anytime.
I also think Novak has the ability and the game to beat Rafa regardless of how well Nadal’s playing – that’s right, I feel 2011 Novak would beat Rafa tomorrow. I just don’t think Novak right now with the way he’s been playing up to this point has that unshakable, almost indestructible belief that he had last year or even in January at Australia. He’s just not playing at that level.
Novak is aware he’s never beaten Nadal at the French Open, losing all eight sets. And based what I saw Friday I just don’t see how Novak is going to get one Sunday. As much as I’d like to see a good, suspenseful match – no, not one that goes six hours like Australia – unfortunately I think Rafa’s going to win this pretty easily.
Yet, if somehow Djokovic finds that form in the overnight – gets into one of the eggs? – or manages to get inside Rafa’s head quickly or forces it to five sets, he can win. Otherwise, I think it goes like Rome and Monte Carlo.
Rafa twice denied Roger the “Federer Slam” on Chatrier and he’ll do the same to Djokovic tomorrow. Seventh heaven awaits for Nadal.
The pick: Nadal in three
And a late congratulations to Maria Sharapova for winning her own career Grand Slam. Will will see a second this weekend?
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