Well, it’s come down to the two guys who were the overwhelming favorites for the title at the start of the tournament. The second group of favorites which included Roger, Stan, Ferrer, and Murray none came close to even making the final. Stan was first to go in the opening round with a disappointing performance. Then Roger followed in the fourth round with a disappointing loss as well. Ferrer did the same in the quarterfinals when he threw in the towel after a set all. And finally Murray went down in very disappointing fashion to Nadal yesterday as well, losing 3-6, 2-6, 1-6. I knew Murray had no chance of beating Nadal. He is just not a natural clay courter because his shots are too flat. His forehand especially is a liability on clay. But to go down as meekly as he did was very disappointing.
It just confirms my view that he is not a serious threat on clay and that he is way behind the rest of the big four on the surface. Overall he is behind the rest of the big four too, with fewer slam titles and less consistency. Murray won’t mind the result against Nadal much though. Aside from the fact that he worships Nadal he has shown that he is back to top form and he will be a serious threat in the grass court season and Wimbledon again, where he will be seeded third according to one of my readers while Roger will be seeded fourth. I happen to think Roger and Murray will be the biggest favorites at Wimbledon this year. I’m sure if Murray can make semis at his worst slam then he can win the title again at possibly his best slam. But of course, Roger is on a mission this year and will have something to say about that.
In the other semi yesterday it was of course Djokovic against Gulbis and that was a much more competitive match with Djokovic winning 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3. Gulbis’ forehand technique is pretty poor as well, but at least he can hit it with a lot of topspin and Djokovic didn’t play enough to that side either. Gulbis’ backhand is his strength from the ground and he also has a pretty huge serve. Djokovic cruised through the first two sets with some masterful clay court tennis but seemed to fatigue somewhat in the third set while Gulbis raised his level to win it. Djokovic was soon back in control though to win the fourth set and the match. Gulbis winning a set was always on the cards so that is not a sign of vulnerability from Djokovic. What did, however, bother me somewhat was Djokovic’s lack of tactical awareness.
The shot that could make the difference for Nadal
And it’s not the first time. I have previously said that when Djokovic plays Nadal he is not aggressive enough and that he doesn’t end the point as quickly as he should. Also that his transition and net game was not good enough. Nadal then used this against him by becoming more aggressive himself, which caused him to win the next two slam finals against him and to dominate the rivalry. Against Gulbis Djokovic was at it again, going cross court every single time after Gulbis hit a drop shot and not going to Gulbis’s weaker forehand side nearly enough from the ground. I mean Gulbis was spraying forehand errors all over the place, but Djokovic insisted on going to Gulbis stronger backhand side. It’s like Djokovic can’t think for himself, which is pretty embarrassing for a player of his quality.
What saves him of course is the fact that he probably has the best backhand and return of serve of all time, as well as a pretty good all round game, physical superiority, and being mentally strong. He doesn’t have many weaknesses aside from his slice backhand and net game perhaps, but he clearly needs to be more tactically aware. That said I’m not too worried about that fact for the final against Nadal. I know after what happened in the semis a lot of people are probably thinking Nadal is the clear favorite, but I don’t change my tune that fast and I don’t throw in the towel. I still believe this is Djokovic’s year. It is clear that Djokovic had the much tougher draw and Nadal’s cakewalk draw may come back to hurt him in the final. Even the one guy who put up some resistance against Nadal admitted to throwing in the towel after the second set.
As for Murray, he played like he threw in the towel before the match even started. Djokovic, on the other hand, was thoroughly tested by the likes of Cilic, Raonic, and Gulbis. These are all very competent players on clay and yet Djokovic was never in any real danger of losing to any of them. I am certainly not underestimating Nadal though. I mean there is a reason he was basically unchallenged in his draw, even though it was a weak draw. And he has after all only lost once at the French Open in nine years. Certainly if you think he is the favorite you are not delusional. But I have said since the beginning Djokovic is my favorite for the title and I am not going to change my tune now. I think he has been thoroughly tested and he will definitely be able to test Nadal, who has not been tested himself.
The shot that could make the difference for Djokovic
I’m not sure Nadal is therefore ready to withstand the test of Djokovic. If you look at the last three years then Djokovic has come closer to win the title every year. In 2011 he lost to Roger in the semis who was in god mode, in 2012 he lost in four sets to Nadal in the final, and last year in the semis he was on the verge of breaking the Nadal stronghold in Paris. If the past is anything to go by then he is now finally ready to slay the monster and win the career slam. He has also dominated the rivalry with Nadal of late which should count in his favor too. Tomorrow is a huge day for Djokovic. He hasn’t won a slam since the 2013 Australian Open, and lost in all the other slam finals in 2013. It has not been Djokovic’s best stretch, but by winning the French Open tomorrow he will feel that it has all been worthwhile.
He will be on seven slam titles with the career slam in the bag. That would already put him in the company of an elite group of players and certainly he will have made big strides in the greatness debate. None of Lendl, Edberg, Becker, Mcenroe, and Connors completed the career slam, so he would probably surge ahead of all of them. That’s huge. And he still has many more chances to win slams. But he needs to stop the recent trend of losing in slam finals. This may also be his last chance to win the French Open. If you fail so many times to win a title it could become a mental block, like Wimbledon was for Lendl. The stakes are no doubt extremely high for Djokovic. But the same goes for Nadal. After what happened in the Australian Open final he badly needs this title.
If he loses at the one venue he could always depend on to win a slam at it will be a huge blow to him. Especially after what happened in Australia. That loss dented his confidence badly and if he loses tomorrow it could just break his confidence for good. His invincible aura on the surface will be gone, and he will have nothing to fall back on anymore. Already his results have suffered since Melbourne. He even had his worst clay season in many a year. Djokovic has the chance to put him away for good tomorrow. Nadal will always fight back, but he may not be able to win much as far as slams go after that. Roger’s slam record could well be safe then, but of course I’d like to see Roger add another slam to his tally at Wimbledon as well just to be safe. It’s all come down to this folks and it’s exciting as well as slightly nerve wrecking.
I can’t wait for tomorrow and I won’t miss the final for the world. It’s going to be very close again but I have a feeling Djokovic may just edge it this time. Maybe we will have a similar match to last year, but this time with Djokovic coming out on top.
LETS GO DJOKOVIC!!!