Saturday, 7 June 2014

Rafa v Novak for the 42nd time

After all the upsets over the past two weeks, mainly to Switzerland, the Men's Singles Final at Roland Garros is set, and the participants are as hoped and predicted.

Rafa Nadal flexed his clay court muscle against Andy Murray in one semi final to put to rest any notion that Andy had somehow made up ground on the world number one on this surface.  The Scot's competitiveness shown in Rome was clearly more to do with Nadal operating two or three gears below top capacity, timing his run to the n-th degree as he has done so well in each of his previous eight visits to the French Open finale.

Whatever ones thoughts are on where players may sit in the list of greatest to play the game, the case for Nadal to be ever higher on that list is surely growing.  For much of his career, the talk has been when will injury cut short the career.  Indeed, until his stellar 2013, many were keen to write off the possibility of him returning at his previous level, certainly not rating him a chance of matching Federer in terms of Grand Slam titles.
I'd be putting money on him surpassing Roger, as long as Roland Garros remains part of the Grand Slam story, because no one appears capable of defeating him here.

Not unless you are Novak Djokovic.  Until today, the number two seed had in many ways been more impressive than Nadal in his performances this French Open, and the Rome win leading in was important for his belief to continue.  Djokovic has yet to defeat Nadal here, but always rates himself a chance - too many opponents, Ferrer a classic example, are "defeated" before they even take the court against Rafa in Paris.

Novak did not deliver a great semi final against Ernests Gulbis, but he did enough to win and make the final - that was the goal, no more.  Completing a career Grand Slam would not occur because of a polished faultless semi final win.  Saving his best for last - that is Sunday - is what's required.  The difficult conditions also dictated the brand of tennis exhibited by both Djokovic and Gulbis and the energy dropped towards the end.

No such luxury for the Serbian star come Sunday, and his phenomenal returning will need to be back to its pristine best if he hopes to put sufficient pressure on the Nadal groundstrokes, keeping him behind the baseline, and directing the rallies as Djokovic did in Rome in a best of three set encounter.  This is best of five of course.

I personally would rejoice in a Djokovic triumph.  It would be deserved and add even more depth to a rivalry which has, in my opinion, surpassed the head to head Nadal/Federer rivalry both in competitiveness and relevance.

However a ninth crown for Nadal would also need serious congratulations and a multitude of superlatives.

If the final is anything like the semi they played last year then we are in for a treat from these two who spoil us regularly with their brilliance.

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