R.afael Nadal has owned Roland Garros for most of his career. The possibility that Novak Djokovic could take over the lease on Sunday afternoon depends on two factors: the desire of the Spaniard and the neck of the Serbian.
In six games there was no sign of waning the will of the champion, who fought to win every set. Whether Djokovic̵
The answer will come at the end of this 53rd French Open, 12 of which Nadal has won since his debut in 2005. Djokovic disturbed his reign in the 2015 quarter-finals and won the crown during his forced absence due to injury. in 2016, but otherwise this kingdom was ruled by Mallorca.
Djokovic cites the match five years ago as a reason to believe he has a good chance of winning. What has led to the discussion is the element of uncertainty that makes great sporting occasions memorable. When he saved two match points to stop Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final last year, he confirmed that his gift for upsetting his peers is stronger than ever. If he can stay on his feet, he will continue to punch.
Jim Courier, the American who has won twice here, is unsure of the outcome. “Rafa was fabulous,” he said on ITV. “I liked the adjustments he made since the match in Rome [when he lost to Schwartzman in the quarter-finals]. I liked that he was shifting his position back to service a bit.
“It was in the normal form of Rafa that we were used to seeing in this tournament. He wasn’t too challenged. He arrives fresh for another final and knows it will be a tough match. It will be a colossal battle between these two titans. There is so much at stake. It’s just great to see these two amazing players do it again here at Roland Garros in the final with so many things to do.
“It will be difficult to finish points. Sunday will be colder … and the drop shot will be the key to both. Rafa is a little more comfortable with the forehand drop shot and Novak a little more comfortable with the backhand. We will look for him in the final for sure. “
Those are strategies and tactics. What is more difficult to measure is the feeling and the instinct. Chris Evert, another American in Paris who triumphed here, seems to lean towards Djokovic. “Novak is sometimes not human,” he said on Eurosport. “I look at Nadal and see a warrior fighting for everything. He will leave the blood on the pitch. I look at Djokovic and I see more of a robot but in a good way. The mental part of his game is one level ahead of all the others. It’s wonderful.”
Those who saw Nadal prepare for the stubborn challenge of Schwartzman would put his mental strength on par with Djokovic’s, because neither of the two finalists gave up on him. If Djokovic were to win, he would need to play to age 43 and win every French Grand Slam to reach Nadal’s tally in Paris, where the Open Era began in 1968. Some records are fireproof and this is the safest in the game.
However, there is a bigger prize at stake. Win or lose on Sunday, Djokovic is the favorite to overtake Nadal and Roger Federer along the way and amass the most trophies in the four Grand Slams. Together they have 56 majors, 20 of which belong to 39-year-old Federer, that is hors d’combat, 19 of them Nadal and 17 owned by Djokovic, who is one year younger than his active rival.
But all this is history, past, present and future. What matters is the final at the end of a bizarre and important tournament that would not have taken place at all during the coronavirus pandemic were it not for the steadfastness of the FFT, desperate for cash in their beautiful and expensive refurbished environment.
Faced with the daily elite of 1,000 spectators admitted as if it were a royal banquet in Versailles, Nadal and Djokovic worked their way to the most likely conclusion. It will be five bloody sets and Nadal will be champion again.