There's no questioning Novak Djokovic's place as the No. 2 tennis player in the world. But that won't be enough to end Rafael Nadal's stranglehold on the clay of Roland Garros.
The superb Serbian has looked every bit as good as the No. 2-ranked player in the world should on his way to the French Open final. Through six matches on the infamous clay, he's only been to a fourth set twice as he's rolled through the bracket.
But, historically, we've been here before, and it isn't pretty for Djokovic. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, he's not only had a difficult time beating Nadal in French Open finals, but also hasn't even been good at keeping it close:
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet for a 6th time at French Open; Djokovic has won total of 3 sets in first 5 matches— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 6, 2014
Those who believe this is the year that Djokovic puts his struggles against the king of clay behind him will be quick to point to the last match these two have played.
Djoker was able to claim a three-set victory over Nadal in Rome just three weeks ago. With the win coming on a clay court and marking his fourth consecutive win over the Spanish star, it's reasonable to assume he's in a better position now than ever to get over the hump.
However, a look at how well Nadal has played since that match reveals a much better player than the one Djokovic vanquished in Rome.
Nadal, who is still feeling the effects of a lingering back injury, per the Daily Mail, struggled to find consistency throughout the tournament.
Who will win the 2014 French Open?
In his first match he was pushed to the limit by Gilles Simon in three grueling sets. He also dropped sets in matches against Mikhail Youzhny and Andy Murray before getting bested by Djokovic in the final.
Through six matches in the French Open, those struggles have become a thing of the past. Nadal has rounded into shape just in time to vie for his fifth straight French Open title. He has won five of those matches in straight sets. Clay-court specialist David Ferrer is the only one to even take a set.
Nadal went on to win the next three sets against him 6-4, 6-0 and 6-1.
Djokovic, on the other hand, has shown moments of mortality on his way to the final. Specifically, his semifinal match may be an indicator of a player who isn't quite ready to get over the hump. Going against No. 18 Ernests Gulbis, he was frustrated enough to smash a racket, as noted by Tom Perrotta of The Wall Street Journal:
BREAKING NEWS (literally): Djokovic leads Gulbis in racket smashes, 1-0. Unexpected!— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 6, 2014
Even though he ultimately came out on top, Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times reported that many felt that Djokovic sounded ill in the post-match press conference:
Verdict from several people in the press conference with me was that Djokovic sounds sick. Has two full days to recover, though. #RG14— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 6, 2014
For Djokovic to keep Nadal's streak of French Open titles from extending to five, he will have to be at the top of his game both mentally and physically. Neither of those is a good indicator that he's ready to pull off the feat.
With Nadal's 65-1 record at the French Open standing as one of the most impressive records in tennis history, Djokovic may have to wait one more year before finally getting the better of his Spanish rival.