Will it be a seventh title for Nadal?
So after disappointingly one-sided semifinal victories over David Ferrer and Roger Federer respectively, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic face each other for the third consecutive time in Grand Slam finals; this time at Roland Garros.
So who’s going to win?
Well in one corner stands the challenger, Novak Djokovic, the "Serbinator" current world No.1 and winner of the last three Grand Slams, playing in his first French Open final.
And in the other the seemingly invincible “King of Clay” six-times and defending champion Rafael Nadal.
So how do they match up?
The challenger Novak Djokovic
Nadal was the in-form player leading into the event. Since withdrawing from the semifinals in Miami back in March with a knee injury, Rafa has compiled an incredible clay court record of twenty-one wins and zero losses.
This run included winning the red clay court titles at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome—best not include his blue period in Madrid.
Now this kind of behaviour is nothing unusual for Nadal, but what’s outstanding about this record is that it’s been compiled without the loss of a single set!
Following his win at the Australian Open in January, 2012 hasn’t been as much of a success as the previous year for Djokovic.
Going into Paris, Novak lost to Nadal in the finals of Masters events at Monte Carlo and Rome, whereas at this time last year he hadn’t lost a single match.
More pain than pleasure in Novak's run to the final
Novak’s run to the final hasn’t been without difficulty. Two sets down in the fourth round to Andreas Seppi, four match points against him in the quarterfinals against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, have reinforced the feeling for many that this won’t be the Serbs time to win his first French Open title.
Meanwhile Rafa has lost only thirty-five games in six, best of five-set matches!
So how do these two gladiators game’s match up?
Weapon of tennis destruction - the Nadal forehand
Neither Rafa nor Nole possess the biggest serve on the tour, electing instead to start points with a mixture of well placed and varied serves of up to, but seldom exceeding, 130 miles per hour.
Both players possess exceptional returning skills, though with the quality of both player’s second serves, and the slow surface, it’s doubtful that this will be a deciding factor in the final.
It’s fair to say that Rafa’s best shot is the forehand and Nole’s his backhand. Though Rafa’s backhand cannot be considered a weakness, as it’s simply less of a strength than the forehand, for Djokovic how, or if he is allowed to control and win points with his forehand, is pivotal to the outcome of Sunday’s final.
Not applicable—as most of the points in the match will be won following a massive groundshot attack, and if not won with an outright groundshot winner, finished off with a simple put away volley, drive volley or overhead.
The "King of Clay" at full stretch
Whoever dominates with their forehand will likely be the victor in the final.
Allowing Rafa to unload vicious 90-mile-per-hour forehands one after the other from the right side of the baseline will guarantee a swift exit for the "Serbinator” and I very much doubt whether Nole will permit this to happen.
The best two-handed backhand in the game
Both players are in the peak of physical condition, and Rafa has shown no sign of discomfort in his knees following the return to his favourite surface after the hard courts of Miami and Indian Wells.
No one having witnessed the five hour fifty-three minute Australian Open final between the two, would doubt the durability of Novak Djokovic.
So once again I doubt physical condition will be a defining factor in the final’s outcome.
Tennis matches are often won well before the players take to court. For some, simply getting to the final is enough, others suffer from a mental block against certain players, simply not believing they can beat them – neither of these statements is true of Nadal or Djokovic.
Both believe they have earned the right, and possess the ability to win the “Coupe des Mousquetaires”.
A first title for Nole or a seventh for Rafa?
For me it’s Novak’s title to win and Rafa’s to lose.
Rafa has been playing at the top of his form for some time now, whereas Nole, following his victory over Federer, seems to have reached his.
The match will be decided by who executes their game plan the better on the day.
My pick: Novak to win his first French Open title and hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.
Why: Because I don’t believe he’ll play as badly as he has since Melbourne. He beat Nadal last year on clay in the finals of Madrid and Rome so if anyone can dethrone the “King of Clay” at Roland Garros he can.
Should be an epic.