First set: Djokovic 0-1 Nadal* (* denotes server): And Rafa will serve first. And does: not the greatest of starts as he dumps his first serve into the net and then sends a forehand long to to gift the first point to his opponent. Then a lovely little rally with Novak fending all sorts of Rafa forehands at the net before his opponent wears him down to go to 30-15. But Novak battles back to bring up the first break point of the match – in the first game. Rafa saves with a serve but a whipped forehand from Novak brings up another opportunity to break and another ace from Rafa to save it! A brilliant display of nerveless tennis from Rafa there to hit those two aces when he needed them most. A great drop shot from Djokovic looks like it’s set up a chance at a break point but he slams an easy overhead long and the next point seals the game for Nadal.
Because of Covid restrictions, the crowd need to leave in just over three hours if the match is still going on. It happened in Djokovic’s last match, where the crowd booed as they were turfed out. I’m sure they’ll be pleased if they are asked to leave at two-sets all. Maaaaybe they should have put this match on first – with all due respect to Zverev and Tsitsipas.
Djokovic has beaten Nadal here before and not that long ago – in 2015 in the quarter-finals (on the Spaniard’s birthday too). Djokovic didn’t even need to break too much of a sweat that day, beating Rafa in straight sets. Of course, Djokovic went on to lose to Stan Wawrinka in the final but he’ll be trying to visualise that quarter-final win as he steps out on to court today.
The winner of this evening’s match will play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final. He’s just beaten in five sets, which I am legally obliged to call an “epic”. Here’s what the 22-year-old had to say after reaching his first grand slam final.
“All I can think of is my roots, where I came from,” he says, after becoming the first Greek player to reach a grand slam final. “My dream was to play here, to play on the big stage of the French Open some day. I would have never thought that I would.”
And so here we are – the inevitable final, except it’s the semi-final. The five-setter in the other semi-final means we’re starting a tad later that expected – bad news for Novak and Rafa if they wanted to tuck into a spot of Turkey v Italy in the Euros, but there you go.
Novak leads this pair’s head-to-head meetings but only just – 29-28. It’s a different story on clay though, where Rafa, as you may expect holds a 19-7 advantage.
Nadal is the favourite here but as this article on the ATP site details, his opponent has been better in pressure situations at this year’s tournament. Novak has saved 86% of break points he’s faced, while Rafa’s rate is surprisingly low at 50%. It’s a similar story in break points converted, where Novak has the edge 63% to 49.3%. And then it’s been a pretty good week for Serbian sports superstars with Nikola Jokic winning the NBA’s most valuable player award. And if that sounds like I’m clutching at straws in search of signs of an upset, it’s because I am.