Novak Djokovic (1) vs Rafael Nadal (3)
Befitting of any Grand Slam final, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal face off for the 35th time on Friday afternoon in the first of the semi finals in Paris and with both players benefiting from straight set wins in their respective quarter final matches, the playing field is arguably as level as it could possibly be. Nadal and Djokovic were on court for around two hours each (against Stanislas Wawrinka and Tommy Haas respectively) so there’s no clear advantage gained by either player. I was a little surprised to see the better of the two matches as the first match on the Philippe Chatrier court, although on reflection, I think it’s perhaps the participation of home favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second semi final that has seen this happen. One can only assume the television channels in France have insisted that Djokovic and Nadal merely serve as the appetiser for the Ferrer and Tsonga main event.
In terms of the match itself, this looks like a flip of a coin and could genuinely go either way. On the one hand you have Nadal who is imperious at his very best on this surface and boasts multiple French Open titles. On the other hand you have Djokovic who is only lacking a Roland Garros trophy to complete his haul of all four major titles and has looked to be a man on a mission this past fortnight. If we go back six or so weeks to Monte Carlo where Nadal is almost as unbeatable as he is in Paris and it was Djokovic who dismantled the Spaniard in straight sets, breaking the Nadal serve on five occasions. More telling was just the 31% second serve points that Rafa was able to win, suggesting Djokovic went after the Nadal second serve rather successfully. Naturally this is something Djokovic will attempt to exploit once again tomorrow afternoon. Staying with the second serve and Nadal was only able to win 39% of the points behind Djokovic’s second serve during the same match, pointing towards Nadal’s potential inability to attack in quite the same way Djokovic is able to. It could be argued this is where the match will be won and lost. For me though and this may sound obvious, it’ll be the player who wins the biggest points most often.
If we look at the last few matches between the pair that have taken place at any Grand Slam, it’s apparent that the matches don’t tend to be won in straight sets. For example, US Open 2010 (4 sets), Wimbledon 2011 (4 sets), US Open 2011 (4 sets), Australian Open 2012 (5 sets), French Open 2012 (4 sets). For that reason, I don’t see this one concluding in three sets. I made a point within my quarter final previews that optimum conditions for Nadal are hot and humid and it looks like he may just get his wish tomorrow. Temperatures are set to peak at 27 degrees on Friday afternoon and that should suit Nadal down to the ground. Critics were getting on Rafa’s case at the beginning of the tournament when sets were being dropped, suggesting he’s not the player he was or at least not playing anywhere near as well as he should be. The upturn in the weather coinciding with his increased performance levels are no fluke in my view and he’ll take all the beating tomorrow. Whether it’s four sets or five sets remains to be seen but everything points to a classic and I think Rafa can outlast the battling Serbian Djokovic in an epic encounter.
Selection: Rafael Nadal @ 1.68
Score: 3-2 @ 6.2
David Ferrer (4) vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6)
I’m naturally delighted that 25/1 pre-tournament selection for this very column David Ferrer has reached the last four stage, as predicted in my outright preview. His progress to this stage has been as straightforward as he could have hoped for and hasn’t dropped a set in five matches to date. His time on court has been kept to a minimum and shouldn’t be fatigued in any way. One thing I did get wrong was Ferrer’s likely opponent, since I expected Roger Federer to be stood on the opposite side of the net. Not to be as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stormed past Federer himself in straight sets, meaning like Ferrer, Tsonga is yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament. Roger Rasheed is clearly having a positive impact on the Frenchman and to this point he has looked super consistent, when in the past he’s been prone to throwing in the odd poor effort when big things have been expected. I still believe Tsonga is more effective on a faster court and could be seen to better effect on the grass of Wimbledon in two short weeks. I’m also concerned the pressure on Tsonga’s shoulders could be a large burden to carry. Not since 1988 and Henri Leconte have France had a participant in the final and it’s been thirty years since a Frenchman won the event which is quite a wait. There’s no doubting Tsonga is playing some of the best tennis of his career, he appears to be hanging in points that little bit longer, making his opponent playing one of two extra shots. This is something that in my view he’s added to his game. We all know that the Frenchman has a ‘bigger’ game than Ferrer. He possesses more weapons than Ferrer and if he comes into tomorrow’s match in the same sort of form he was in against Federer,he’ll win.
David Ferrer will see this as his best chance to reach his maiden Grand Slam final. He’s reached the last four stage for the seventh time at a major tournament and he hasn’t had to face a Murray, Federer, Nadal, or Djokovic to get here. If he s able to nullify the obvious threats that Tsonga poses, get off to a fast start, frustrate the Frenchman and keep the Chatrier crowd quiet, this might just be his time and having put him up at the start of the championship, I won’t be deserting him now. He won’t want this going to a fifth because this could quite easily turn into a Davis Cup type match and won’t end well for the Spaniard. I don’t anticipate he’ll have things all his own way but I have a sneaky feeling the plucky Ferrer will advance and make Sunday’s final an all-Spanish affair.
Selection: David Ferrer @ 1.74
Score: 3-1 @ 4.3
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