For the first time in his career, Novak Djokovic has reached the French Open final. In the way of the last piece of the puzzle for him, completing the career and special Novak Grand Slam, is the master of the Roland Garros out to set some records of his own, Rafael Nadal.
The final that should have been from the start, with both of the players going through the Semi Final in relative ease. Probably surprising ease to some. Nadal went through David Ferrer, crushing his country-mate 6-2, 6-2, 6-1. Djokovic needed only three sets to dispose of Roger Federer, in what was a closer match, but still disappointing in the way Federer wasn’t able to pose a tougher opposition for the world’s number one, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
A calendar grand slam. Not in one year, but winning four consecutive Grand Slam titles. No one, since Rod Laver, has completed the Grand Slam, in the men’s department. Steffi Graf had a Golden Slam, including an Olympic Gold, in 1988. Laver, of course, has no intention of conceding his distinctive achievement, saying what Djokovic might do isn’t the same as his achievement. That’s just envy speaking. There’s no difference in my opinion.
But can he? Nadal hasn’t lost a set at the French Open since last year’s final. He has lost only one match in the tournament since he made his Paris debut in 2005, and he wasn’t completely healthy in his loss to Robin Soderling. He isn’t completely healthy now, according to reports, but that hasn’t stopped him from looking his invincible self this clay season and over the last couple of weeks.
Whatever mental edge Novak Djokovic held over Nadal due to his monumental streak against him through 2011 and the 2012 Australian Open, it seems to have evaporated. Nadal was dominant against Djokovic in Monte Carlo and again in Rome. He hasn’t lost a set since the Madrid Masters, a tournament he hates, when he lost to Fernando Verdasco. Since then, it’s been 11 straight sets win.
For Djokovic, the Roland Garros has been less than easy. He came back from two sets down to beat Andreas Seppi in the fourth round. He needed five sets, and to save four Tsonga match points in order to make it through the quarterfinals. It wasn’t his best tennis, but it was more about the attitude, and the confidence he has in himself. In the fact that no matter how bad or down he is, he’s going to come out as the winner in a five setter.
Life against Nadal isn’t that easy anyway. At his current form over the last two months, there are simply no weaknesses to his game. You need absolutely perfect shot making and a whole lot of endurance to endure the long rallies on clay. Novak Djokovic seemed to have it together in the matches against Nadal last season, but it still wasn’t enough to win the French Open last year. Federer, of all people, stood in his way.
The previous record between Nadal and Djokovic (18-14 Nadal, 11-2 on clay) doesn’t mean a thing this time. It’s all about shot making and keeping it together. Nadal is going to apply the pressure he has on everyone else through the tournament. Djokovic will just have to keep it together, and brace himself for a long afternoon.
If he keeps his return game together, with that incredible ability to switch defense into offense come through again, I think he has a shot. It’s Nadal’s match to win. His record (7 French Open titles) to set. Novak Djokovic, not as scary as he was a year ago, is all that’s in the way.