As if the Fates have something planned or in mind for the final in France’s capital, it’s happened again. Nine-time Roland Garros champion, Rafal Nadal had a 25% chance of landing in Novak Djokovic in a quarter-final due to his low seed, No. 6 after one player’s withdrawal, so when the French Open draw came out this past Friday morning in Paris, Nadal got exactly that, a potential quarterfinal with the world’s current and dominating No. 1. It will feel like a final masquerading as a quarterfinal, where the all-time French Open champion and his 66-1 lifetime record at Roland Garros will likely face the world No. 1, reigning Australian Open champion and a player one French title away from a career Grand Slam earlier in the tournament that desired. It might put Djokovic in the running to get the one win that has been alluding him.
Nadal of late has not played well. His little slump that saw him go down in seeding to No. 7, might just open the way up for Djokovic to steam past him. This would be ground-breaking for the Serbian tennis star who for a full decade, has been in the shadow of Nadal who has ruled the French Open the way no one had ever dominated any Grand Slam tennis tournament. By winning 66 of 67 matches and collecting nine championships, including the last five in a row, Djokivic has had little chance to garner the honour. But this year, Nadal has had poorer-than-usual results on red clay and has had an acknowledged a crisis in his confidence because of it, has started tongues wagging that his reign at Roland Garros might be over. So far in 2015, Nadal is 17-5 on clay. It’s not great for a guy who went 126-4 on the surface from 2006-10. The last time he last lost more than three clay matches in a single season was back in 2003.
And so the lefty from Spain will not be the tournament favorite, despite his past accomplishments. Instead, Djokovic is being considered by the experts and media as ‘the man to beat’, as he strives to complete a career Grand Slam and add to an already amazing season which includes winning the Australian Open, and possibly extending his now 22-match winning streak.
He’s been unusually frank with the media about his feelings of nervousness and lacking self-belief:
“I’m still playing with too much nerves for a lot of moments, in important moments, still playing a little bit anxious in those moments,” Nadal said in late March. “But I’m going to fix it. I don’t know if in one week, in six months, or in one year, but I’m going to do it.”
If Nadal is not his true self in this tournament then Djokovic is poised to take advantage. In the last 10 appearances at Roland Garros, Djokovic exited six times against Nadal, including each of the past three years and twice in the final, once in a semifinal. It seems like the Fates may be smiling in his favour. If he wins, Djokovic would become the first man since Courier in 1992 to win the Australian Open and the French Open in the same year, getting him halfway to a calendar-year Grand Slam.
“We’ll take it step by step,” Djokovic told media before the tournament began, “and see how far I can go.”
One thing for sure, nothing should be more fascinating as following the paths of Nadal and Djokovic in this tournament.
Our Pick: Djokovic wins, to add the elusive win to his repertoire.