It took an extra day but Novak Djokovic finally got the job done, beating his good friend Andy Murray 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 5-7, 6-1 to advance to his 3rd French Open final, where for the first time the opposition won’t be named Rafael Nadal, but instead Stan Wawrinka.
Today, Djokovic and Murray resumed at 3-3 from the suspension Friday when the match was turning into a mess under the dimming light. On the restart, with conditions much friendlier (the heatwave over), both guys were crisp out the gate, and Murray looked the hungrier eventually breaking Novak for the second straight set at 5-all.
With momentum on Murray’s side entering the finale, a funny thing happened: Djokovic broke early and like that, the match was over.
“I don’t think I was lucky,” said Djokovic after his 28th straight win. “I think I was playing some great tennis yesterday. He found his game late in the third. I had many opportunities to finish the match in straight sets, but credit to Andy.
“He showed why he’s one of the biggest competitors and fighters on the tour. A bit different conditions, with sun and then later in the evening it got a bit slower. He was using his variety in the game very well. It was a really tough match, over four hours all together, yesterday and today. No different from any other match that we played against each other. It’s always a thriller, always a marathon.
“He just came up with some great shots, great points. I want to congratulate him for a great tournament and a great fight, and I wish him all the best.”
Once again in the final sets Djokovic’s has just been too good this year. Murray was right there in the fight. Then he wasn’t.
“I played a loose game on my serve the first game of the fifth set with the new balls,” said Murray. “I missed I think three balls long in that game. Then Novak relaxed a little bit after that and he hit the ball extremely accurate. In the fifth set he was hitting the ball very close to the line, so I ended up doing a lot of defending. I felt like I ended up putting up like six or seven lobs just because he was hitting the ball very close to the line.”
For Murray, it was a good week, better than most of us would have anticipated for the Scot a month back. A 15-1 clay run with two titles and a French Open semifinal 5-set loss to the favorite? I’m sure he’d take it and it’s a positive sign for what is the most important time of the year for him, the grass courts in England.
“After Novak, I would say I probably played the best tennis in the major events, in the slams and in the Masters 1000s I have been quite consistent in the ones that I have played,” Murray said. “I’ve won probably more matches to this stage than I have any other year of my career. That’s what it feels like. I don’t know if that is the case, but that’s what it feels like. That’s been positive.
“My game is back close to where it needs to be to win Slams,” he said. “Physically I’m back there again, and now with the grass court season coming up, hopefully I can get myself an opportunity there and play much better going into the grass this year than I was last year.”
So after 4 hours, 6 minutes over two days, Djokovic is back in the final.
Novak Djokovic v Stan Wawrinka
Given Stan’s form – I know he beat Nadal in Rome – few would have picked this Swiss to make the final. But he’s clearly playing that bully-ball tennis that serves him so well, crushing anything that lands in the strike zone. Few hit it as hard as Stan does, and these days in Grand Slams even fewer beat him.
When he won the Australian Open last year, I thought of him as a one-slam wonder. I think he did, as well. But not true. He’s proven he’s a force. But now he’s up against the ultimate force, Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic might not be at very top of his game like was in 2011, but he’s determined to win here. And that’s good enough for me.
With Nadal licking his wounds, Djokovic might not get a better chance than tomorrow to get his French Open and the career Slam.
And I think physically he should be fine. He played three hours in the heat Friday, another hour today in the cooler conditions. As long as that leg/groin are fine, he should be OK.
“I think I will be fine for the final,” said Djokovic. “Whatever I have left in me I will put out on the court tomorrow and hopefully it can be enough.”
Novak’s problem is Stan just has his number in the Slams. Djokovic leads 17-3 but in the Slams Wawrinka has pushed him to five sets the last four times they’ve played.
Why is that? I think part of it is Djokovic’s shots land right where Stan likes them, right where he can get a good rip at it. And Stan’s power throws off Novak’s rhythm, gets him on the run and too defensive.
The problem I have with Stan is I just don’t think mentally he’s on par with Djokovic. The motivation and the urgency isn’t there, either. Nor do I sense he has the consistent belief that he belongs – a win tomorrow would equal Murray’s two Slams!
“He’s been amazing so far this year winning every big title, playing his best test tennis ever,” Wawrinka said Friday. “But he’s never won Roland Garros.
“Maybe he’s going to play his best tennis and beat me in straight sets. But I know we have been having some big fights on the hard courts. We played I think only four years ago on a clay court, in Rome 2011, which was when he was winning everything also. It can be really interesting.
“I know that he’s not always happy to play me when I can play my game. When I can play my aggressive game he’s not feeling his best normally. So I will have to focus on myself and try to bring my ‘A’ game.”
Stroke-for-stroke, yes Stan matches up. But when it comes down to it, I think Novak’s too strong right now. Too focused on winning this title.
That said, this is almost a worst case/best case for Novak. In the biggest match of his season, being the heavy favorite over someone you are expected to beat – not a Rafa or a Roger. Someone you are 17-3 against. So the pressure only increases exponentially. And if it becomes too great, then Novak could crack and Stan could steal this one.
So while I do leave some room for Stan, I think he keeps it close, gets a set, makes Novak sweat for it but in the end…
The pick: Djokovic in 4
Would it surprise me to see Djokovic get tight and fall apart. No. Novak’s just 8-7 in his 15 prior Grand Slam finals, while much, much better in the ATP level events, so that tells me maybe he does feel it a little more in the majors.
But like I said, even if Novak does feel the nerves, so too will Stan. And with what’s at stake, this should make the match that much more fun and that much more unpredictable and even ugly at times, as both guys deal with the butterflies.
NBC will have the match live at 9am ET.
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