Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will battle for the 56th time when they face off in the Final of the French Open at the Roland Garros on Sunday. For Djokovic whose only title in Paris came in 2016 when he not only completed a career slam and non calendar grand slam, there is the additional incentive of becoming the first men’s player in the Open Era to will all four major titles atleast twice, while Nadal who has an astonishing twelve titles in Paris, will equal Roger Federer’s tally of 20 grand slam title should he go on to win the title for a record extending thirteenth time.
Not surprisingly both players won their semi-finals on Friday to set up a record extending 56th career meeting between the duo. Novak Djokovic takes a 29-26 lead into the final, having a 15-11 lead in all finals on the ATP Tour. Nadal, the undisputed King of Clay, has a 17-7 advantage over Djokovic on Red Clay, and also has a 9-6 edge in grand slams and more importantly a 6-1 lead at the Roland Garros. It will be the Spaniard’s thirteenth final in Paris (12-0), and he is 99-2 in all matches played at the Open. Djokovic takes a 74-13 record in Paris having overtaken Roger Federer’s tally of 70 match wins in Paris.
In the first semifinal on Friday, Nadal exacted sweet revenge on Diego Schwartzman who had beaten him in straight sets in Rome at the Italian Open. Nadal saved two break points in the opening game and then broke for a 2-0 lead. Schwartzman would break back but then held his serve in the sixth game for the first time in the match. Nadal would serve out the first set on his third set point in the ninth game. The second seeded Spaniard broke in the third and the ninth game of the second set.
He again forged ahead taking 3-1 and 4-2 lead in the second set but each time Schwartzman would fight back breaking service twice. Schwartzman had three break point opportunities in the eleventh game but Nadal saved them and it went into tie-break which he dominated completely winning it by 7-0. The match lasted three hours and twelve minutes, Nadal improves to 10-1 in career meetings against Schwartzman who is assured of breaking into the Top Ten following his first appearance in the last four of a major which earns him 720 points.
The second semi-final looked like heading for a similar straight sets win for the top seeded Novak Djokovic who took a two set lead and had match point on his own serve in the tenth game before the fifth seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece got his act together and made Djokovic fight for his fifth final appearance in Paris. Djokovic saved four break points in the opening game and then broke Tsistipas to take a 2-0 lead. Djokovic saved one more break point in the seventh game and clinched the first set in his fourth set point in the ninth game taking the first set 6-3. Tsitsipas wasted two break points on in the second game of the second set and from 2-2, Djokovic broke service twice, winning the next four games and the second set 6-2.
Games went with serve till 4-4 in the third set when Djokovic broke for a 5-4 lead. He held match point in the next game before Tsitsipas finally got his first break of serve on his 11th break point to tie the set 5-5. From there on Tsitsipas won the next four games, taking the third set 7-5 on his second set point and took a two love lead breaking the Serb’s serve to love after holding his serve in a lengthy first game of the fourth set. Djokovic would break back right away in the third game but Tsitsipas saved three break points in the fifth game and four in the seventh and one more on the ninth before he would get the break in the tenth game his first set point to send the match into a decisive fifth set.
Tsitsipas who was a respectable 2-3 in career meetings against the Serb, saved one break point in the opening game of the decider but from there on it was all Djokovic who moved into a fifth gear as he broke serve three times clinching the last six games in a row to complete a 6-3,6-2,5-7,4-6,6-1 win in three hours and fifty eight minutes. Djokovic saved 11 out of the 15 break points he faced in the whole match, while Tsitsipas saved 14 out of the 22 break point opportunities in the match. Djokovic hit 56 winners including 5 aces, while Tsitsipas had 52 winners including 7 aces.
Prediction : As always this is tough call with so much at stake. The first set will be critical, but with their recent records in consideration I would pick Djokovic in four or five hard fought sets.
In the ladies section of the draw, unseeded Iga Swiatek of Poland continued her astonishing run in which she has lost only 23 games in six matches as she outclassed the Argentine Nadia Podoroska 6-2,6-1 in only 72 minutes on Thursday to make her maiden grand slam final. The 19 year old Swiatek had demolished the top seed and defending champion Simona Halep in the fourth round causing the biggest upset of the tournament. Next up will be the Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin who ended the hopes of the two time Wimbledon Champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in her 6-4, 7-5 win in the second semi-final.
The 21 year old American, born in Russia, only faultered briefly in the second set in which she failed to serve out the match in the tenth game. She immediately broke in the eleventh game on her second break point and served out the match in the twelveth game, winning on her second match point in a match lasting one hour forty six minutes.
Prediction :- The duo met four years ago in the juniors event at Roland Garros when Swiatek prevailed. Kenin has only one loss in grand slam matches this year and should win her second grand slam title in two tight sets, maybe three. Swiatek’s chance should come pretty soon.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]