What’s at Stake


Let’s talk briefly about why Djokovic and Nadal both need to win their respective matches tomorrow and go on to raise La Coupe des Mousquetaires on Sunday.

You already know the answer to this two-sided question, but I have about an hour before a Zoom beer with a pal, so let’s drop another post about these matches tomorrow that I am so geeked to watch!

Nadal vs Schwartzman goes off first, supposedly at 5:50 PST.

Nadal not winning this match in fairly routine fashion would be a surprise. Sure I mentioned that the few days of rest will help Diego, and this man did beat Rafa in Rome a few weeks ago.

But this is so different. How about the irony of Thiem drawn into Nadal’s half and then Thiem and Diego wear each other out for 5 + hours.

Still, this is probably the best match-up for that bottom half’s SF.

Tennis.com highlighted a good tell-tale sign that tomorrow’s Rafa vs Diego will be quite different from their 2020 Rome tilt. Nadal’s FS percentage in that Rome QF was around 48%. Against one of the best returners in the sport. Easy pickings for the Argentine.

Rafa’s FS % in his nine wins against Diego? ~65% (thanks Tennis.com).

In other words, Nadal is 9-1 against his SF foe tomorrow and the wins have been fairly, how should we say this: easy pickings. Count on a higher FS %.

Their 2018 Roland Garros QF match saw Schwartzman take the first set 6-4, but then the rain came. I remember thinking, saved again by the rain!

3 2 and 2 when play resumed.

Rafa wins tomorrow because he’s simply (almost) never tested, let alone lost, on the red clay at Roland Garros. We know the line: 6,089,450 – 2.

Two losses are at the hands of Robin Söderling in 2009 and Novak Djokovic in 2015.

I think Diego is the clay courter with recent success against this legend who can possibly make Rafa nervous. Sinner did just that in the QF actually.

To that we ask: does Rafa raise his level in the SF or was the threat from Sinner a sign of vulnerability from the 34 year-old 12 time champ?

Rafa has to win this title because this might be his last good opportunity to win a major (I want to stress might since these Big 2 continue to dominate the next Gen competition like some kind of horror story).

Some of you might say, his best chance to win a major until next spring’s French Open. Or the U.S. Open, where he’s won two of the last three.

Ha ha. I hear you. You’re probably right since outside of Djokovic, who is going to beat Rafa in a major final? No one has ever beaten him in a French final and Kevin Anderson, nor Daniil Medvedev will do so at the Open.

However, with Covid, we don’t even know what the ATP calendar looks like next year. Is the French Open in May? What about the rest of the clay season? A lot is up in the air, which makes these opportunities to win these majors that much more precious. He wins one and he ties Roger (please don’t say these guys don’t care about that tally. At least Novak admitted the desire, as one of his chief career goals).

And age is a factor. Let’s see how he does tomorrow and in the final (supposing he gets there). If he beats Diego and then gets past Djokovic or Tstitsipas with his usual aplomb, then I’d better hold off on this kind of distress call that I seem to be making on his behalf.

Ask Djokovic how precious these opportunities are.

He got his 2020 Australian Open before Covid turned-off the lights. But no Wimbledon due to cancellation, a default at the Open, so this final four in Paris is all there is left for 2020. If he were to only win one major this year, I think in a fit of honesty he would say “that’s terrible and unacceptable.”

He has more ground to make-up, obviously. The U.S. Open default about a month ago was no bueno for the Serb. You can feel the pressure he’s feeling here at Roland Garros. Are these injuries somatic?

Losing here would keep him three back of Roger and now Rafa as well if the Spaniard raises the cup.

Same scenario as Rafa above in terms of my distress signal. Does Novak have years (plural) left to accumulate majors?

We can’t even go there hypothetically with Covid still raining outside.

These are precious opportunities, folks.

And let’s take a look for second at Novak’s SF opponent. His resurgence here in Paris is a reminder (I summarized his clout/class, his threat, in my last post). He and Thiem are definitely coming.

There’s not a lot of competition, especially in the Bo5 format, Mcshow!

Look, just trust me on this. Both Novak and Rafa are feeling massive pressure to win this major, this last major of 2020. One could reach 20. The other could reach 18. The stakes are high, folks.

And we have said nothing of the more basic animal instinct to win, to dominate one’s opponent. That’s the strongest drive when the ball goes up.

If Novak looks healthier than he did in the QF and can dispose of Tsitsipas without too much drama, we should be in store for a monster war in Sunday’s final.

Beating Rafa at Roland Garros, in a final, with Rafa in form, would go quite well with beating Roger in a Wimbledon final. Think Novak wants some of that, while simultaneously capturing the double major (at least two at all four majors, something Fedal can not claim)?

Assuming Djokvoic wins tomorrow, he’ll be tough to stop in the final, reaching 18, all of those talking points and most importantly: a clay game to take-on the king of clay.

Assuming, of course, that Nadal is waiting there in the final, on his chance to win 13 and 20.

I know, first things first.

Enjoy SF Friday.

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