The men’s French Open singles final will have the first-seed Novak Djokovic facing the eighth-seed Stan Wawrinka. Djokovic is playing his third final at Roland Garros, and is aiming for his first title there, completing the Career Grand Slam. And he’s already defeated the nine-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, the man who ended his title dreams the last three years. So, this is maybe his best chance to finally win the French Open; surely the World No. 1, who is undefeated on clay this year, must be the favorite.
After a dominant three-set win over Nadal in the quarterfinal, Djokovic had a tricky semifinal match against Andy Murray. After two sets it seemed like it was going to be an easy win for the Serb but Murray fought hard and leveled the match at 2-2 before playing a weak fifth set that Djokovic won 6-1. Murray’s great defense was causing trouble for Djokovic as it was hard to hit through or try to approach the net.
The final opponent, Stan Wawrinka, is a completely different player to Murray. Wawrinka doesn’t have the defense of Murray but he hits heavy groundstrokes and will test Novak’s defense. And despite that he’s usually lost, Stan has played some of his best matches against Novak. Since 2013, they’ve met four times at slams, on the hard courts of the Australian Open and the US Open. All those meetings were five-setters with Stan winning the 2014 Australian Open quarterfinal, his first win against Novak since 2006.
I think the situation here is ideal for Wawrinka. The surface plays into Stan’s hands. A slow hard court like at the Australian Open is Novak’s best surface and Stan has troubled him there. Clay, on the other hand, is the most comfortable surface for Stan. And despite Novak having eight Grand Slam titles compared to Stan’s one, it’s Novak with the big pressure here. Stan is playing “only” for his second Grand Slam title; no matter what happens, he will still be a Grand Slam champion. Novak, on the other hand, is playing for the Career Grand Slam that he’s missed out completing the last three years. This may be mentally one of the toughest matches in Novak’s career. Compared to his two previous finals at Roland Garros, Novak is now the clear favorite, yet still he is facing a tricky opponent.
The expectations for Wawrinka were high last year after winning the Australian Open. But he wasn’t able to play his best tennis, except only occasionally. Now he seems to be in a good form: he made the semifinals in Rome by beating Nadal in the quarters, and he’s been solid at Roland Garros, beating Roger Federer, for example. The semifinal against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga showed some of his inconsistency when he lost the second set from 4-3 up a break. But he also performed well under pressure, for instance saving all of Tsonga’s break points in the third set before taking it in the tiebreak. I believe Stan is capable of playing a good match in the final, forcing Novak to play his best tennis to win it. We’ll see how Novak can deal with Stan’s game. Of the big names he’s faced at Roland Garros so far, Nadal and Murray are completely different players to Wawrinka. Earlier this year on clay, Djokovic dropped a set to another big-hitter Tomas Berdych. Wawrinka’s power game requires Djokovic’s defense to be as great as it’s been this year.
I am expecting Djokovic to win the final — he is simply the best player in the world now, also on clay courts, and very consistent. But if Wawrinka plays his best tennis, he’s dangerous. He feels comfortable on clay and can also hit through in slower conditions. We haven’t seen this match-up on clay in a long time so it will be interesting to see it tomorrow. If Stan plays his best tennis, Novak needs to bring his best to win.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): mirsasha