Wouldn’t ya know it, the final Grand Slam match of this crazy, truncated 2020 season features the two very best players in the world, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, battling it out for another French Open title.
They played 55 times before in all conditions and on all terrains, but this will be their first showdown in a pandemic.
Djokovic has the head-to-head edge 29-26 and in general, is the more in-form player after his Cincinnati and Rome titles.
Of course this meeting is back in Rafa’s house, Philippe Chatrier, where the Spaniard is 6-1 against Djokovic and 2-0 in this final.
Good news is, both are healthy, fit and should be fresh. I know Djokovic went five sets, but I don’t expect any hangover from the win over the Greek. We’ve seen Novak recover from long matches before and the Tsitsipas victory wasn’t especially taxing.
I think against Tsitsipas, Novak had a little letdown there late in the third allowing the 22-year-old back in. But he stayed calm, didn’t panic and closed it out impressively in the fifth.
Nadal has been doing his thing. He’s back in the final for a sixth time without dropping a set. And course he’s never lost once he reaches the Roland Garros final four.
Jannik Sinner had a chance to get a set, Schwartzman had chances as well. But otherwise, it’s been smooth sailing for the 12-time champ. Maybe too smooth…
Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
So here’s my issue with Nadal: his results. He lost to Schwartzman in Rome. Sinner served for the first. Schwartzman was in much of the match.
Yes, he won, yes, he won in straights, but he hasn’t played anyone close to the caliber of Djokovic. Nadal’s had a great draw, perhaps too great, and I don’t think he knows where his game is really at. He just hasn’t had enough matches. There’s been no Monte Carlo, no Barcelona, no Madrid. I think Rafa needs his rhythm. Does he have it?
We know Djokovic is in form as he rolls in with a 37-1 record on the year. And I think he’s got to have that chip on his shoulder from the default and the off season issues with the virus. And what better way to stick it to the tennis world then by dethroning Nadal on Sunday.
Of course both have big picture, historic motivation: Nadal is trying to tie Federer at 20 and Djokovic is bidding again for a second Career Slam and to get on the doorstep of that Roger/Rafa all-time Slam leaderboard.
I think when the dust settles, Djokovic will sit atop that list, but that’s for another day.
Tomorrow, Nadal will have to play with his usual fire and intensity, and don’t expect anything less. He’ll show up with all systems go. The key for Rafa will be his serve and court positioning. Djokovic is the game’s premier returner and
For Djokovic, it’s also his serve and then his backhand which will be under pressure from that relentles Rafa forehand.
So really, the guy who serves better will win this thing. And as I said, I think Djokovic has just had more form, more reps than Rafa who is playing just his second event in six months.
I’m going to do something I normally don’t do, and that is buck the trend. I picked Nadal at the start, but I just think right now Djokovic is the better player. I think the neck issue is behind him as is the default, which he may also be using as fuel.
And he’s beaten Nadal more than anyone else, and beaten him on clay, in a clay final and at the French. Of course no one has ever taken Rafa down in the French final or even come close to doing it, but why shouldn’t that come to an end in this crazy, unpredictable 2020 year? And Djokovic is just the guy to do it.
The Pick: Djokovic in 5
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