By Sandra Harwitt
Memo to Novak Djokovic: If the same Rafael Nadal is planning on turning up for the final that showed up on Friday to toy with Andy Murray in the semifinal, you might want to consider calling in sick on Sunday. Seriously.
Yes, Djoker, I’m aware that you did defeat Rafa 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to win your third career Rome title a few weeks ago. But let me just bluntly point out to you that that was Rome and this is Roland Garros, the house that Nadal owns. Like it or not, Nadal just blossoms on Court Philippe Chatrier — he’s done so for a record eight French Open trophies and is in the hunt for a fifth consecutive final victory on Sunday, not to forget his ninth title here.
We’ll get to some more of the Rafa record at Roland Garros in a minute, but let’s look at Nadal’s form in pummeling poor Murray for a 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 semifinal win on Friday. You had to hand it to Andy the dandy, he tried hard. He ran around that court every which way as Nadal yanked his chain this way and that way. He never stopped giving what he had to offer but it just wasn’t anywhere near enough. Murray had no answers and was left with a few questions, one of which might be what kind of insane person wants to play Nadal on clay in Paris anyway?
So there isn’t much more to say on that, so let’s get back to Nadal’s near perfect record at the French Open. He’s played 65 matches here and lost one way back in 2009, kindly stepped aside in the fourth round to leave the opening for Roger Federer to complete his Grand Slam collection with his lone French Open title.
Nadal’s currently on cruise control at Roland Garros with a 34-match winning streak he’s not going to be of the mind to see snapped.
And just for the fun of it, why don’t we take a look at the career clay court record of Nadal, which just so happens to be an impressive 316-24. Yes, we mean somehow he’s managed to lose 24 matches on clay.
And there’s another driving point that should get Nadal going. He needs the win on Sunday to hold onto the No. 1 ranking, which he would surrender to Djokovic in the event of a loss. As nice as little Rafa can be, he’s not likely to be of the mindset for letting Nole take over the ranking throne.
A Nadal win will give him the Spaniard fourth title this year — not really so important in the scheme of things. But it would also deliver a 14th Grand Slam trophy and that is significant, especially for those who are counting and understand that would place him only a measly three majors behind Federer’s record 17 Grand Slam souvenirs.
So what does Nadal have to say about his stay here in Paris. He put it simply, “Normally when you are playing well, then you are able to play with the right position and go on court with the right intensity.” Enough said.
And all of this is not to say that Djokovic is chopped liver by any means. This Serbian guy, who is about to become a husband and a father in nearly the same breath, has most definitely proven himself to be the real deal.
Djokovic has six Grand Slam titles, everyone but from here at the French Open. And that has become the bane of his existence. He can’t stand the fact that he yet to join the seven men in history who have won all four Grand Slam trophies. Wondering who those seven men are, here you go: Andre Agassi, Don Budge, Roy Emerson, Roger Federer, Rod Laver, Rafael Nadal and Fred Perry. In case you’re wondering, that appears to be the motivation for Djokovic bringing Boris Becker on board his team — he wanted someone to help him figure out how to close out matches he’s surrendered even when having a chance to win.
In the end, it’s pleasing that Roland Garros could be in for another Rafael Nadal – Novak Djokovic blockbuster match. They’ve played 41 times already with Nadal leading Djokovic 22-19.Djokovic organized his end with a 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over Ernests Gulbis.
Let’s face it, no one’s forgotten that streak Djokovic had in 2011 when he won all six of the times he faced Nadal, leaving the Spaniard rather grumpy.
But this is not 2011 and it is Roland Garros where Djokovic’s luck against Nadal can not be likened to the luck of the Irish. They’ve encountered each other five times here at the French Open and Nadal’s won all five matches. They’ve only played once in the final — in 2012, and Nadal won that in four sets.
But it was their third semifinal meeting last year that really rankles Djokovic. He took Nadal to five sets for the first time at the French and deep into the fifth set. But it wasn’t Nadal who cracked first, which meant the Spaniard went away with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7 win.
And now we await the sixth installment of a Nadal-Djokovic French open outing. Djoker is not likely to take my advice, but unless he knows something we don’t, he’s likely to go home with another disappointment on Sunday night.