Rafael Nadal has won six of the last seven French Open Grand Slam tournaments. He missed out in 2009 because he wasn’t 100% when he lost his only match on the Paris clay. He’s won three clay tournaments in the last couple of months. Can anyone, meaning Roger Federer and/or Novak Djokovic, deny Nadal from his 7th Roland Garros title?
We’ll begin with Novak Djokovic, who isn’t entering the French, the only Grand Slam title he has yet to win, not in the best of forms. Certainly not in his undefeated, all conquering form he had going into Paris a year ago. He did lose to Roger Federer in the Semi Final, but got right back on the horse to win Wimbledon and the US Open.
This time Djokovic arrives after two finals that Nadal can chalk off to himself – Monte Carlo, where Djokovic was playing heart broken and clearly not fully invested in the match after the death of his grandfather. Then came Rome, after both of ’em faltered and complained on the Madrid blue surface, missing out on a Will Smith suit.
Djokovic’s rise in 2011 wasn’t because he changed his technique and tactics; It was his mental switch and ability to dig deep in every situation against everyone. Soon enough, he became the superior in the Nadal rivalry, something previously thought to be impossible. Nadal seems to be back on top of that, at least in a three setter. Five setters? Djokovic hasn’t lost a five set tournament since, wel, the French Open last season. And he didn’t get to meet Nadal that time.
So Nadal has lost his last three Grand Slam finals to Djokovic, who might make it a Career Grand Slam these two weeks and complete a special ‘Novak-Slam’, which is winning all four majors consecutively, just not in the same Calendar year. Does it matter? For people like Rod Laver, who is the last win all four tournaments in one year, it matters the world. Old folk don’t like giving up their achievements.
Like we’ve said before – It all depends on Djokovic’s mental state, and not letting go of matches. His final against Nadal in Rome was appalling. Nadal didn’t play that great. Djokovic just made careless mistakes one after the other, misplacing easy shots. If Djokovic gets rid of whatever it was that bothered him in Italy, he is the favorite to win this tournament, with Nadal only waiting (potentially, probably) in the final.
In the same bracket with Djokovic is the world number 3 player and one time Roland Garros winner, Roger Federer. Federer bloomed in Madrid, which was more like a hard court surface than a clay one, making a short claim to the number two spot in the world. His chances of winning in Paris? Slim to none, but still there. It would make the best of stories, but it’s hard to see it happening.
Because Federer just doesn’t have the legs to beat Nadal and Djokovic on clay, especially in a five set match. He has enough skills to make it problematic for both of them, but his recent loss to Djokovic in the Rome Semi Final showcased that the age difference, e.g. the fitness levels are just not the same. He’ll need to conjure up a whole lot of magic to beat Novak. Nadal? I don’t know if all the Magic in the world will be enough.