The weather for most of part of this edition of the French Open has been dark, gloomy and bleak. It could be said that is how Djokovic’s past 5 campaigns in the City of Light has been. Arguably he was the favourite or close second in 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. That only added to the exasperation when the tournament wrapped up and Djokovic did not find himself holding the winner’s trophy.
A closer look at his journey this year reveals that his journey started on a bright note – having received, probably, the most comfortable draw to the semis among the top 4 seeds. The guy who has beaten him the most number of times over the past couple of years, Roger Federer making a rare no-show at a slam must definitely have lifted the disposition among the Djokovic faithful, as well.
Couple of rounds into the tournament, his biggest obstacle to the final – 9 time champion Nadal said “no mas” and that prompted memes with Djokovic dancing (that did not go well with sensible fans on either side of the divide) on social media. That is when Mother nature decided to join in the fun. Many Federer fans thought it was Nature’s way of lamenting the universally adored Genius’ absence. Many Nadal fans called it the Nadal curse that was unleashed by the Gods to affect the Nadal section of the draw.
The cause for the disastrous weather, as most people would agree, must be a more mundane one. The effect, it had on Djokovic and his camp most probably was not. Djokovic was seen rubbing his neck in the pre-quarterfinal against Roberto Bautista-Agut and during his match against Berdych, was dangerously close to getting defaulted. To Djokovic’s credit, he was also doing things to lighten up, what must only be a gigantic, burden on his mind and heart.
Interacting with the crowd during a rain break, involving the crowd and the ball boys/girls during his post match celebration definitely must be mentioned on the positive ledger of things. As we look ahead to the final, tomorrow, one can say the clouds have cleared up for Djokovic – over his tennis game – if the semifinal is anything to go by and over the city of Paris, should we go by the weather forecast.
The biggest x-factor in sunday’s final is going to be how effectively Djokovic can keep his emotions at achieving such a unique feat – something that was beyond the reach of Federer, as well as Nadal. This is not to discount the questions Murray will be posing on a surface that Murray seems to have, finally, found his footing on. The two have already met twice this season on clay and split those two encounters.
To add more intrigue to this match-up, this is their first show down in the French Open final and while Djokovic has dominated the meetings in a final at the Australian Open, Murray has won both the encounters in the finals outside Melbourne – namely, Wimbledon and US Open. There is also this additional information that their only previous encounter at French Open was a five set in the semifinals of French Open, 2015.
Murray’s campaign has been, in contrast to the World No.1’s, not affected much by the inclement weather. That does not mean the going was smooth, however. The British No.1 took his fans on a emotional roller coaster ride in the first two rounds, both the matches going the distance. Murray had to pull out all stops to ensure his passage to the round of 32.
The next two matches, in the 3rd round and pre-quarterfinals were straight set affairs against, probably, the biggest servers in our game. Just as one thought Murray has had his share of tough matches, the 2013 Wimbledon Champion found himself in a deep hole against the home favourite Richard Gasquet. That he has survived this scare a minute roller coaster is a tribute to the grit that is part of the DNA of all champions.
That then is the fact sheet in front of us – Djokovic, not too many turmoils on court, lot of curve balls thrown by weather, which for the most were handled immaculately by the Serbian. Murray has been on a tennis equivalent of a bungee jump – plummeting to extreme depth, then recoiling and plunging again.
The question from Murray’s point of view is going to be which Murray will show up? The one the turned up against Karlovic, Isner and Wawrinka focused and ruthless on the big points or the one that played Stepanek, Bourgue and Gasquet – who was not able to take command of the match and had to play catch-up.
Over the last 18 months, Djokovic has been able to find a higher gear in the finals and race away with the match after gaining the upper hand in the big points of the match. Murray is all familiar with it, having experienced this first hand at the Australian Open, the last 2 years. The thing that will give hope to Murray camp is the fact that the same Djokovic blinked in the two previous French Open finals – the only Grandslam finals, for that matter, any finals that Djokovic lost after winning the first set.
Prediction: It is absolutely imperative that Andy Murray wins the first set and then let the scoreboard pressure and the stress of a career slam on Djokovic be his allies in taking control of the match. Though Djokovic has been a fort, when it comes to finals, I am counting on him blinking once again in the French capital. Murray will continue his unbeaten run on clay to become the first British player to win the French Open in nearly 80 years.
Counterpoint: Fourth Time Lucky For Djokovic
In what would be a historic finish to an injury plagued and rain affected Roland Garros 2016, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will square off against one another for the 34th time in their career. The Serb is looking to complete a career slam and also the non calendar grand slam which would also be his 12th major win, while Andy Murray who has a Wimbledon title, U.S. Open title and a gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012 will look to seal a grand run on the clay courts with his third major title.
Djokovic has already won titles this year in Doha, the Australian Open in Melbourne, an unprecedented third double at Indian Wells and Miami and also a second Madrid title. Murray who finished runner up in Melbourne won the pairs last meeting in Rome to capture his only win this year.
Djokovic leads the rivalry 23-10 but with Murray’s recently found confidence on the European Red clay expect a classic with both aiming for a maiden title in Paris. This should be a long one but expect Djokovic to win in four or five sets.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]