French Open Semi-Finals Review and Final Preview

I hope you liked my quick post yesterday. It was only half serious though and today I want to go into a bit more detail. I thought the semi-final between Djokovic and Thiem was a tremendous match while the other semi-final disappointed.

Djokovic defeated Thiem 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 in another absolute masterclass. It is clear that Djokovic starts raising his level from the quarterfinals onward in slams. The straight set beatdown of Berdych was impressive but the win over Thiem was truly special.

It was a display of total clay court mastery with some terrific drop shots and volleys included. Djokovic was just on his game and it reminded me of the US Open semis last year and the Australian Open semis this year.

Djokovic was completely dialed in and in the zone. When he is in that mode he is simply unplayable. It is the highest level of tennis ever played and even Thiem’s best was not nearly good enough.

Thiem did exactly what I thought he should which was to come out and swing freely because he had nothing to lose. He was cracking winners himself from all positions but Djokovic’s level was just astonishing.

It’s the best sight in tennis. It may not be as spectacular as Federer or Nadal at their best but it is of higher quality and for the true tennis connoisseur it is a special treat indeed. It is a level of tennis for which there is no solution.

Not yet anyway. The efficiency and completeness of his tennis are such that no one comes close when it is at peak level. The match with Thiem reminded me of the Australian Open semi-final with Federer especially since the first two sets were also 6-1, 6-2.

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Even the great Federer gets shut out completely when Djokovic is in this form. Like Federer, Thiem was able to mount some kind of comeback in the third set as he went 3-0 up, but he is not as experienced and accomplished as Federer and couldn’t convert his advantage into winning the set.

That said, I am still very proud of and happy with Thiem’s performance not only in this match but in the French Open overall. The quality of tennis in the semi-final was a treat to watch and even though Thiem got destroyed it was very entertaining tennis.

Thiem has serious power off the ground but he also has a complete game. And, of course, that backhand is just a work of art. As for Djokovic, he served at 68% first serves which already puts the opponent under immense pressure.

Then he won just about 50% of return points at 41/83 with some high-quality returning which makes it impossible for the opponent. Add the depth and consistency of Djokovic’s groundstrokes and it puts the opponent under constant and relentless pressure.

That is not even mentioning Djokovic incredible movement and defense and all the rest. I mean it really is unplayable. The one weakness he has is that overhead which is the worst of any world #1 to date but it the rest of his game is so good that it doesn’t matter.

His slice is also probably the worst of any world #1, but again, if the rest of your game is so efficient it doesn’t matter.

  • Murray vs Wawrinka

Since both semi-finals were played at the same time I only watched some of this match once the other semi-final was over. Murray won 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in a pretty disappointing match. I started watching in the third set where Stan got the break to win the set.

But then in the fourth set, he just went away again. It was a disappointing performance from him but overall a good result for him given his poor clay court form until Geneva. And congrats to Murray.

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I didn’t think he would get this far after the five-setters in his first two rounds but then Nishikori did go and lose to Gasquet before the quarters and Gasquet choked badly as usual.

But congrats to him on making his first French Open final and he certainly came a long way as a clay courter in the last couple of years.

  • Final Preview

Ironically, Djokovic is the one who had the tougher schedule but Murray may end up being more tired because he dropped six sets before the final while Djokovic only dropped one. So certainly Djokovic seems physically in better shape going into this final.

He also finally got his rest day on Saturday after playing four days straight. Other than that this is his fourth French Open final as opposed to Murray’s first which must also count for something. Experience does help.

Then he leads the head-to-head with Murray 23-10 overall, 7-2 in slams, 4-1 on clay, and won the only meeting at the French Open last year in five sets. The poll at Men’s Tennis Forums suggests that Djokovic is the favorite by just about 2/1 odds which I think is fair.

That is strong odds which I think he deserves. Other than the fact that he has never won the French Open everything else is overwhelmingly is his favor. And besides Murray has never won the French Open either.

I think some people are putting stock in the fact that Murray defeated Djokovic in the Rome final and gave him a very tough match in the semis last year. I think those people are mistaken and I’ll tell you why.

Murray gets the odd win over Djokovic, just like Federer. He defeated him last year in the Montreal final while Federer defeated him in the Cincinnati final.

And we all know what happened at the US Open. Same thing at the World Tour Finals where Federer defeated a poor Djokovic but then got routined in the final. Djokovic was struggling in Montreal and Cincy as well.

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And he did so in Rome too. He was out of sorts all week. That has not been the case at all in Paris. Dropping only one set is very good for him in a slam, given that he usually plays his best tennis from the quarters onward.

I can only speak for myself but for me, the Rome result means nothing at all. And neither does that French Open semi-final of last year have much relevance. Djokovic’s main mission last year was to put the Nadal demon to bed which he did convincingly.

So much so that Nadal didn’t even show up to challenge him this year. And by the way, I wish he did because Djokovic in his semi-final form would have embarrassed anyone, including Nadal. Thiem did extremely well to only receive one bakery product.

I think Djokovic is a better player than he was last year which is why I don’t think that semi-final marathon with Murray has much relevance here. He would have learned not to become passive from that match as well.

After dropping the first two sets in that match, Murray started hitting the ball really hard and became more aggressive while Djokovic just played the same. I don’t think Djokovic would allow the same thing to happen this time.

He is now a better, more confident player and I think he will rise to the occasion and relish it. Never mind the ‘French Open curse’. You can say he was cursed again this year but he took matters into his own hands and won both his quarters and semis in straight sets to conserve energy.

When you really decide to do something no one can stop you and the circumstances become irrelevant. I think Djokovic has said enough is enough and decided that this is the year he will put the ‘French Open curse’ to bed.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean he is guaranteed to win the title, or else there would be no need to play the final. But I think he is the clear favorite and that he will rise to the occasion once more. It is by no means an easy task.

Djokovic is trying to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four consecutive grand slams. It has not been done in the modern era. Not even by Federer or Nadal. So that would already put Djokovic above Federer and Nadal in some respects.

Djokovic is more complete as a player than Federer and Nadal and I believe he is taking tennis to a new level. So I won’t be surprised if he gets it done. But again, this is tennis and you just never know.

As for a prediction, this French Open has a similar feel to it than the Australian Open where Djokovic really started to shine from the quarterfinals onward. And of course, there he defeated Murray in straight sets in the final.

Djokovic looked in absolute brutal form in the semis so I won’t be surprised if it is straight sets again but the reason I don’t like making predictions is exactly because tennis is so unpredictable.

But Murray is certainly capable of winning a set so for safety I will say Djokovic in four.

Enjoy!

  • Highlights

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Posted in French Open, Grand Slams.

11 Comments

  1. I disagree with the statement “Djokovic’s main mission last year was to put the Nadal demon to bed which he did convincingly.” ..

    Djokovic beat a man who is a shadow of a player he was. And anyone who suggests otherwise must review the French Open 2005 semi-final and the 2006 final. Federer played incredible shots backed by great footwork and yet lost. That’s because Nadal was able to retrieve everything. Let’s be honest here, no tennis player can sustain his/her level of excellence throughout their career. That’s impossible. And for the last few seasons (including 2014) Nadal has been pretty ordinary. Are we forgetting that he was beaten by Murray in a clay court masters final last year? A guy who could barely go toe-to-toe with him even on grass which is a considerably faster surface.

    The same arguments holds for Federer. We can keep saying that he is very close to his peak and that ‘Peak Federer’ was beaten in the last two years at Wimbledon. But the fact is that age has taken its toll on him too. Arguing against this is like claiming, Federer beat ‘Peak Sampras’ at Wimbledon 2001.

    Federer and Nadal had their time and no one can take what they have achieved away from them. Djokovic has persevered through all these years and is reaping the benefits now. If a few years down the line, a young gun with amazing skills starts beating him regularly at the slams, it would be wrong to belittle his achievements.

    Djokovic may win four-in-a-row, but that doesn’t trivialize what Federer and Nadal did during their prime. Federer couldn’t complete the 4 in a row because of a player who is undoubtedly the greatest clay-court player that ever lived. Nadal couldn’t do 4-in-a-row, because he hardly had anything left in the tank after the clay court season.Period.

    As for Djokovic having done what neither Nadal nor Federer could do, there is a plethora of things that they have done but he hasn’t and might not be able to do.

    So, Instead of drawing these comparisons. Let’s watch some good tennis, celebrate what’s happening now and what is there to come (the younger lights have started shining too :-) ..)

    I am an Andy Murray fan too and hoping that he could eke out a big win for his young daughter. That would be special. Something akin to what Novak did when Stefan was born. :-)

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Right Siddarth and Nadal also beat a Djokovic who was a shadow of who he is now. Same for Federer. Getting into these kinds of arguments is meaningless. Let’s just enjoy the tennis. If Djokovic wins today no one would be able to take it away from him no matter what anyone says. It’s the titles and numbers that count, not what some biased tennis fans want to think.

    [Reply]

    Siddharth Reply:

    True… And he is almost there.. Murray is playing well, but this is too tall a mountain for him to climb :-)

    [Reply]

  2. I think similarly to you. The only unknown is to what extend will desire to win inhibit Djokovic as stakes are frighteningly high. If he could approach this match as any other final, he will win. I believe that he can’t forgive himself for losing last year by being too passive and that, this time, he will go out with all guns blazing. If Djokovic is mentally at right place, I believe that Murray could be blown out of the court today.

    [Reply]

  3. @siddharth:

    1) I don’t remember anybody saying in 2009/10 that Federer/Nadal were beating sick Djokovic who can’t even serve (Todd Martin). On the contrary, I remember everyone saying how Federer/Nadal were awesome player and how Djokovic is a “joke”, “quitter” and “SARS, Anthrax….”.
    2) Federer 2015 is better than any other Federer version according to Federer and many others. If Djokovic didn’t exist Federer would have 2-4 majors in 2015.
    3) In 2005/6 Nadal was a boy. Nadal 2011 was the best Nadal version ever and without Djokovic he would do, at least, 3 majors that year.

    [Reply]

    Siddharth Reply:

    And yet what happened in 2013? Nadal beat Djokovic in the US open on a hard court.. Doesn’t take anything away from the former’s 2011 season..

    It’s these ups and downs, domination by an individual followed by a changing of the guard that makes the game interesting :-)

    [Reply]

    Santorini Reply:

    What you Fedal fans don’t seem to comprehend is that most of Nole’s fans accept the fact that Federer and Nadal are two of the greatest ever. The problem arises when Fedal fans, who have for years mocked and disparaged Novak as a player and a human being, refuse to give him the credit he deserves. The length that some go to eg. creating multiple profiles in order to post and spread disgusting comments and lies, is evident on many tennis sites. Why is it strange to you that there would be blow back from Nole’s fans because of it? When Federer fans are able to say Novak is among the greatest players and stop mitigating his accomplishments with lame excuses, this nonsense will stop. Federer is a great player, Nadal is a great player but so is Novak Djokovic a great player but that seems to stick in some people’s craw. Too bad, get over it! You mention that the changing of the guard makes the game more interesting, however, you need to preach that concept to Fedal fans. They are the ones who can’t accept when their idols lose and yet have the gall to complain that tennis is boring because Novak is winning everything. The hipocrisy is astounding and would be laughable if it were not so pathetic.

    [Reply]

  4. Just caught the end of the final today, was busy unfortunately. Well played to Novak, he deserves it. Holding all 4 slams definitely places him squarely in the discussion for GOAT, and he probably has at least another 2-3 slam-winning years ahead of him.

    [Reply]

  5. Congrats Ru-an, and congratulations to all other Nolefan reading. Hope you all share my joy after today’s historical win.

    I have to admit that I liked very much the way you previewed the final yesterday, and I expect a great write-up about the final.

    :-)

    [Reply]

  6. My previous comment seems to have disappeared. Congrats Ru-an for a good prediction, and congrats to Novak, and a big thanks for such a joyful day!

    BTW, I liked the photos of the first preview very much.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Hello, Mat. Your comment is right above this one. Not sure why you don’t see it. Maybe you thought it was gone because it had to be approved first? Anyway, I am just about to start with my post!

    [Reply]

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