Rafael Nadal doesn't need to reinvent the wheel against Novak Djokovic in the men's singles final of the 2014 French Open. He simply needs to stick with his devastating forehand and bludgeon the No. 2 player in the world into submission on Sunday.
After looking a little shaky coming into Paris, the eight-time French Open champion looks to be back to his best once again. Nadal has dropped one set all tournament, and his semifinal demolition of Andy Murray was a warning sign for Djokovic.
As Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim tweeted out, Murray was offering little in the way of competitiveness:
Djokovic has been looking good himself. He beat Nadal in Miami and Rome in the buildup to the French Open, and he's passed tough tests against Marin Cilic, Milos Raonic and Ernests Gulbis.
Overall, the gap between the two is rapidly closing. The rivalry has been cyclical recently, with each guy exchanging periods of dominance. Right now, Djokovic has the edge, having won the last four meetings. He also pushed Nadal to five sets in last year's semifinal.
Sunday will be the next chapter in this already legendary duel.
For each star, the biggest key to victory is relatively simple. Both Djokovic and Nadal need to be aggressive and assert themselves early in the match. Despite their impressive defensive ability, they can ill afford to be pushed back on the baseline for the entire match.
Djokovic has already said that he's not going to start out on the back foot, per Roland Garros:
What Djokovic will try to do is work the ball toward Nadal's backhand at every available opportunity. While Nadal has become much more balanced in terms of his groundstrokes over the years, he's still very dependent on his forehand to win matches, especially one of this magnitude against an opponent like the Serbian star.
Craig O'Shannessy of ATPWorldTour.com characterized the relationship between Nadal's forehand and backhand perfectly.
"Nadal’s sword is his forehand and his shield is his backhand," he wrote. "While Nadal’s backhand is not as potent offensively as Djokovic’s, it’s a defensive rock when called upon."
On Sunday, the 13-time Grand Slam champion must use his superb speed to run around on his forehand when the time calls for it. That will help him remain on the offensive and keep Djokovic on his toes.
While he was hitting some impressive backhands down the line against Murray, that's not gonna happen against the Djoker. Murray was so physically spent from his earlier matches that he had nothing left in the tank in the semis.
Staying on the attack will also help Nadal keep the pressure on Djokovic, who's looking to complete the career Grand Slam.
Before the match, Nadal acknowledged that both players will be dealing with the weight of expectation, per Dan Imhoff of RolandGarros.com:
Novak already did a lot (of) positive results here. It’s nothing new for him to be in the final. He has the motivation to win Roland Garros for the first time for sure. But at the same time, he has the pressure to win for the first time. I have the pressure that I want to win and the motivation that I want to win the ninth.
Djokovic certainly won't be intimidated by Nadal, nor will he start doubting his own abilities. However, if Nadal can continue wearing him down with his forehand, Djokovic might feel the need to take more chances, which could lead to more unforced errors and sitters for the reigning champion.
It's much easier said than done, but as long as Nadal can avoid using his backhand too much, he should be able to remain the "King of Clay."