2014 French Open Final: Forecasting the Weather and the Outcome

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2014 French Open Final: Forecasting the Weather and the Outcome
David Vincent/Associated Press

The dream final is upon us, and it could be one for the ages.

It's the third installment in three years at Roland Garros of a rivalry that is gaining real traction in terms of historical significance.  

But first let's look at the match itself, then examine the broader rivalry. 

Aside from the well-known particulars, Rafael Nadal going for his ninth French Open title and Novak Djokovic looking for a career set, what seems most intriguing about the 2014 French Open final is the weather forecast.  

Most tennis fans will recall that Djokovic and Nadal played an epic final spanning two days during the 2012 French Open. Nadal dominated the early going before some extremely wet playing conditions negated his trademark topspin and allowed Djokovic to claw his way back into the match. When play resumed for a second day, Nadal rolled to a four-set victory under blue skies and a hot sun. 

While last year's five-set clash in the semifinals was likely more memorable in terms of quality, the conditions were much less significant. The 2013 weather forecast favored Nadal with a sun-splashed dry court, but Djokovic still nearly broke through his French Open armor by going up a break in the fifth set. 

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Combine the themes from these two recent matches and one might think the possibility of wetter conditions might be enough to push Djokovic past Nadal—if he was able to get so close to beating Nadal on a sunny day, more favorable, wetter conditions could be enough to push the Serbian over the line.

Remarkably, the weather looks to be pointing toward that exact scenario according to Weather.com. Paris is expected to be hot and dry in the early afternoon Sunday before showers cool off the French capital in the later afternoon. 

In my opinion, that forecast makes the first set extremely important for Nadal. The Spaniard must control the match while the conditions favor him or he will be at risk of getting steamrolled when they don't. 

My prediction is that if Djokovic takes the first set he will win the match. But if Nadal takes the first, he's got a better than 50-50 shot to hold off Djokovic in the fourth and fifth sets. 

What's amazing is that the encounter will mark Djokovic and Nadal's 42nd meeting overall and 22nd meeting in a final. Those are both records, meaning the Nadal and Federer rivalry that most people can't get enough of is statistically fading in the rearview mirror.

Competitively, the Djokovic-Nadal edition has also been a lot more compelling. Nadal currently holds a slim 22-19 margin over Djokovic in a rivalry that has seen both players streak against the other. In comparison, the Nadal-Federer rivalry was almost all Nadal right from the start.

One aspect to note is the different styles the two rivalries highlighted during their respective cycles.

Nadal and Djokovic usually try to bludgeon each other from the baseline while physically trying to wear the other down. Each has had some measure of success. Nadal altered that formula recently by incorporating more frequent backhand slice to try and neutralize Djokovic's power and range on the wings. That strategy paid off during the 2013 U.S. Open.

In the upcoming French Open final, I expect Nadal to aggressively run around his backhand in hopes of using his forehand to dictate play. It's likely that on his home court in Paris, Nadal will want to put the pressure on Djokovic as he tries to win his first title and complete the career Slam.

The thought of an unfathomable ninth title will also put pressure on Rafa, but he will have the luxury of digging into a much deeper well of belief if things get dicey. 

In sum, the weather in Paris this year should only add to the drama in what is becoming the greatest rivalry the sport of tennis has ever seen. 

No matter the final outcome, Sunday will mark a significant milestone in tennis history. 

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