For the third time in month good buddies Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray meet in a clay final. This one, though, is the biggest of all the clay finals – the French Open.
Djokovic needs this one badly. He’s back in his fourth final and third straight. In 2014, he was up a set against Rafael Nadal. In 2015, he was up a set against Stan Wawrinka. In 2016…well.
Murray wasn’t thought of a clay courter, but thanks in part to the decline of Rafael Nadal and the lack of any true clay prospects of late other than Dominic Thiem, the Scot finds himself in his first French Open final.
(Let’s be real, would Murray really have beaten a Nadal back in the day?)
Murray is also on a roll, winning his last 11 which includes a dominant performance over Djokovic in the Rome final last month.
Murray hasn’t looked quite that strong in Paris. He was a few points from being sent home early by Radek Stepanek then struggled against unknown French wildcard Mathias Bourgue. But he’s bounced back since, losing only two sets in good wins over Richard Gasquet and defending champion Stan Wawrinka Friday.
Plus, Murray’s been on schedule. While there’s been rain, it really hasn’t impacted or inconvenienced him like it has the man across the net Sunday.
Djokovic was saddled with having to play four straight days. Almost the reverse of what happened five years ago when he had four days off week two after Fabio Fognini opted out of his quarterfinal.
Luckily, Djokovic had three fairly straightforward matches and then the customary day off. So physically, I think he should be fine.
Mentally, however, he has to be a little drained. The French has been his focus all year. Even for a few years. And to have the rain plus the added pressure of avoiding long matches has to weigh on him.
Meanwhile for Murray, unlike Wimbledon and even the Australian Open where he keeps losing in that final, Roland Garros really has never been on the radar for him. And right now few are expecting him to win (except maybe me?) and there’s little shame if he doesn’t.
For Djokovic, he needs to serve well, pound away at those groundstrokes maybe ease up on those dropshots. And he leads this series 23-10, winning four of five on the clay and 12 of their last 14 overall.
“He’s one of the most dedicated tennis players on tour. He always seeks to improve his game and get better,” said Djokovic. “It’s pretty nice that our rivalry has evolved over the years.”
For Murray, attack, attack, attack. And bring Novak in then force him to hit that shaky smash of his.
So I think he’ll come out firing, free-swinging and like last year when he pushed Novak, I think he somehow does it again. Only this time he wins.
The pick: Murray in five
NBC has the coverage at 9am ET. I think if there is rain – and why not? – I think that will help Murray and bring him back to the match in Rome.
Though I picked Murray, I don’t see him winning in straight sets. That would be the biggest surprise. However, I could see Novak just blowing out Andy in 3. Novak’s got that kind of firepower to do just that. I just don’t think it goes that way.
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