Five thoughts on Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
So Novak Djokovic is just one match away from tennis immortality – winning Sunday’s final would make him the first man since the 1960s to hold all four slams at the same time – but he could also end up looking very human indeed. He could get the David Ferrer treatment on Court Philippe Chatrier – ‘The Little Beast’ was made to look very small indeed in his semi-final with Rafael Nadal, winning only five games in the most lop-sided of encounters. When you give post-match interviews in French, as Djokovic did after beating Roger Federer in the second semi-final, you get clapped for trying. That’s not how it works when you’re playing Nadal for the French Open title.
The way that Nadal has been playing, there appears to be little chance of him becoming the first man in history to hold all four runner-up plates at the same time; much more likely, he will become the first man to win seven French Open titles, so moving past Bjorn Borg’s six.
While Spain’s economy burns, Nadal carries on ripping through the draw-sheet at Roland Garros. The Majorcan has turned in some fabulous performances in Paris over the years, but has he ever played as well as he did in dismantling Ferrer, a friend and fellow Spaniard and a classy clay-court player? In reaching the final, he has lost just 35 games all tournament. For the fifth slam in succession, Nadal is in the final, a run which goes back to when he won last season’s French Open. So he lost last year’s Wimbledon and US Open finals, and the title-match at this season’s Australian Open. All to Djokovic. But those matches were on grass and hard courts, and this is on the burnt-orange clay of Paris. As Federer once said, “clay-court tennis is almost like a different sport”.
Djokovic is going to have to play the clay-court match of his life to win Sunday’s final. Anything short of that and he will lose.
The one gap in Federer’s grand slam record, and a gap he may never fill? That he has never beaten Nadal on a clay court in Paris. The assumption, as Federer built a 3-0 lead in the second set, was that he would level his semi-final with Djokovic; the momentum could have taken him into the final against Nadal. Especially as Djokovic had been a little shaky in his two previous rounds – he had to come from two sets down against Italy’s Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and he saved four match points against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals. Unfortunately for Federer, Djokovic won the match in straight sets.
Federer can’t make that many mistakes if he wants to win one of both or the grass-court double-header, Wimbledon and the Olympics.
Let us not forget about Borg’s run in 1978. The Swede dropped just 32 games in making the final in 1978. That’s one record that’s still his own.