King of clay Rafa can sweep aside old foe Djokovic once more
Just one man has defeated Rafael Nadal on the orange clay surface at the French Open in the 67 matches he’s played – two-time Roland Garros finalist Swede Robin Soderling.
The 28-year-old top seed Spaniard, odds-on at 5/6 to beat Novak Djokovic in this final showdown, is also bidding to break his own record of nine titles at this event and the first person to win five in a row.
“He was hitting extremely hard, extremely heavy, returning well, and was hitting it well on the run. That’s the toughest match I have played against him,” Andy Murray said of Nadal after his 6-3 6-2 6-1 thrashing in the semi-finals.
“You can go out there with all the tactics in the world but when he’s hitting the ball like that, it’s very difficult to hit the ball where you want to.”
Although injuries have plagued the greatest clay court occupier in the history of the game, he has still somehow managed to dominate so heavily at the French Open. It’s as if the 13-time Grand Slam champion saves himself for this event especially.
Djokovic, 27, has tried and failed to beat Nadal five times at Roland Garros. One of those duels has been in the final, in 2012, when the latter won in four sets. He is priced at 10/3 to get a 3-1 victory again.
The overall stats are heavily in Nadal’s favour. The Spaniard has a winning record in this number one ranked head-to-head, in terms of the number of times played in the Open era (41), as he leads 8-3 in Grand Slam matches and 13-4 on clay over Djokovic.
“It’s nothing new for Novak to be in the final here,” Nadal said. “He has the motivation to win Roland Garros for the first time for sure. But at the same time, he has the pressure to win for the first time.”
It is the Serbian second seed who has got the better of his opponent recently, however. Djokovic has won the last four meetings and two of the last three on clay, including the most recent Italian Open final 2-1. He is 11/10 to make it five victories on the trot, and 5/1 to do it in five sets.
“It’s a very wide and very big court. [Nadal] likes to have that visual effect, as well, because it appears that he gets every ball back,” said Djokovic.
“He feels more comfortable when he plays on the bigger court. That’s one of the reasons why he’s so successful here.
“But we played some really close and good matches, good quality matches the last two years here, especially the one last year serving at 4-3 in the fifth set to go 5-3. It was a very close one.
“And knowing that I was that close to win against him the past two years gives me that reason to believe that I can make it this time. He’s not unbeatable.”
Djokovic, who saw off the spirited Latvian Ernests Gulbis 6-3 6-3 3-6 6-3 in the semis, is unlikely to add to his six Grand Slam titles and complete the career set, though.