We are down to four in the final Slam of 2020. And because of the virus, this unusual Slam season will end on the clay in the middle of October. But what won’t be unusual are the last four players left standing.
We witnessed some strange results in New York and especially so in the women’s draw this week in Paris, but the men’s event has largely gone to form.
After his big, emotional run at the US Open, Dominic Thiem was understandably gassed against Diego Schwartzman, and the little Argentine nearly couldn’t take advantage. But Schwartzman got it done and earned a well-deserved, long-awaited berth in his first Grand Slam semifinal.
Novak Djokovic seemed to have shrugged off that disappointing, if not humiliating, conclusion to his US Open, by returning to a 10th French Open semifinal. Djokovic was in good form and good health until his rematch with Pablo Carreno Busta Wednesday when the Serb’s neck/shoulder issues re-emerged.
Hopefully, after 24-36 hours of rest and treatment, he’ll be ok. He’ll have to be against the suddenly-hot Stefanos Tsitsipas. The Greek hasn’t made as much noise as we thought we he burst on the scene in 2018 then made the semifinals in Australia five months later.
Now, 22, he’s back again and after going down two sets in his opener to Rafa’s student Jaume Munar, he’s romped winning 15 straight sets including a win over Andrey Rublev. If there were disappointments this week, to me, it’s the Russians.
Rublev was up 5-3 in the first against the Greek but somehow couldn’t close despite all the firepower in his arsenal.
Karen Khachanov, who lost to Djokovic, is 6-foot-6 but plays with about as much power as 5-foot-7 Schwartzman. And for some reason Medvedev just can’t get it right on the clay.
And then there’s Rafael Nadal. Wind, rain, snow, cold, hot, roof, no roof, May, October, it doesn’t seem to matter. The King of Clay doesn’t miss a beat. Rafa hasn’t dropped a set and despite the conditions and late nights, he’s once again the favorite to win a 13th.
Jannik Sinner, who will likely be Top 20 within the next year, pushed him a bit early on, but in best-of-5, it has to be such a tall order to pull off the win. It’s like staring at a mountain that you cannot see the peak. Scaling that mountain, beating Rafa on Chatrier is the toughest thing to do in tennis. And that’s Schwartzman’s task.
Rafael Nadal v Diego Schwartzman
We’ve seen multiple times already this week that turnabout is fair play. Tsitsipas got back on Rublev for Hamburg. Djokovic did the same against Carreno Busta and even in the women’s draw, Iga Swiatek reversed her blowout loss to Simona Halep in Paris a year ago. So Nadal is going to have his revenge for losing to the Argentine three weeks ago in Rome.
I know Schwartzman is probably playing the best tennis he ever has, and I think he’ll be fit after that 5-hour marathon win against Thiem. But he’ll have to even player better! I just don’t think he’ll have enough for Rafa over five sets.
Nadal leads 9-1 and Schwartzman played him tough a few years ago before the rains stopped his momentum. Schwartzman got his Rome win, made his first Masters final and has now made his first Slam semifinal, and I think he’ll be content with that. He’ll take it.
For Schwartzman to win, Rafa will have to have a bad day because the Argentine just doesn’t have the raw power to continually damage Nadal. And as we saw in Rome and against Thiem, he gets tight in big moments.
So I think Rafa’s going roll into a 13th French Open final.
The Pick: Nadal in 3
Novak Djokovic v Stefanos Tsitsipas
If Djokovic’s neck/shoulder are worse or if he’s simply off his game, he’s going to lose. Stefanos Tsitsipas has beaten Djokovic twice before, has wins over Roger Federer and he even has a win against Rafa on clay.
The kid is talented and fearless and won’t be starstruck by the moment. His problem is, right now Djokovic is just a little bit better, especially on clay. So if Djokovic is on his game, he’ll get through.
Tsitsipas will have to continue to serve great, play well at the net and stand near the baseline. All things he’s been doing.
But if you look at guys Djokovic loses to in Paris, you’ll see they can bully him. Stan Wawrinka, Nadal and Thiem. Tsitsipas isn’t really a grind-it-out, get in the mud, bully kind of player. I don’t think his mindset is to stay out there for hours and hours belting balls.
And then you have Djokovic who I think is playing with a bit of a chip after his US Open incident. I think Tsitsipas’s time will come, just not now.
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
How crazy would it be if the final Sunday ended up Schwartzman v Tsitsipas? As long as the calendar says 2020, I guess anything is possible. But last I checked, Nadal is still in the tournament and Rafa on clay is about the surest thing there is right now.
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