Nadal and Djokovic vie for French Open supremacy and legend
Restricted numbers, health protocols, multiple testing and social distancing were forced upon the organisers of the 2020 French Open to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.
Amid all of those changes, it appears incongruous and rather stubborn of Rafael Nadal to be in the men’s singles final. Again.
The men have not followed the women’s lead. Nadal will play fellow thirty-something Novak Djokovic for the third time in a French Open final. It will be their eighth meeting at the tournament.
Sunday, 11 October, will be the 56th clash in a rivalry that stretches back to the 2006 French Open. Nadal won that quarter-final on his way to his second title in Paris.
Fast forward 14 years and Nadal is seeking his 13th French Open crown and a 20th Grand Slam title to draw level with Roger Federer’s record haul.
The finalists’ longevity in a brutally physical environment is as remarkable as their trophy collection.
Between them Nadal and Djokovic have amassed 36 Grand Slam titles. They’ve got 70 of the second tier Masters competitions too. With Federer’s 20 majors and a couple of dozen Masters, the triumvirate have dominated the most prestigious tournaments on the circuit for more than a decade.
Thiem and the other twenty-something prospects Alex Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev have all fallen in Paris over the past fortnight to leave the old warhorses.
Djokovic is in the hunt for a second crown in Paris and with it the double boast of 18 Grand Slam titles and the first man since tennis was opened to professional players in 1968 to lift the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open at least twice.
“I hopefully will be able to play my best tennis because that's what's going to be needed in order to have a shot at the trophy,” said Djokovic on the eve of the clash with Nadal.
“I'm in the last match of the tournament, playing against the biggest rival, the biggest obstacle and challenge that you can have. This is what it comes down to.”
Not only has the 33-year-old Serb won 29 of their 55 encounters, he ranks with Robin Soderling as the only conquerers of Nadal at the French Open. Djokovic outwitted him in 2015 in the last eight.
But Nadal has won six of the other matches, including the 2012 and 2014 finals.
“Without playing my best tennis, the situation will be very difficult,” said the 34-year-old Spaniard.
“He is one of the toughest opponents possible. But I am here to keep trying my best. I like to play in this scenario. I know I have to make a step forward. That's what I'm looking for.”
For the organisers who have had to rethink structures, adjust plans and, at the last minute, limit crowds to 1,000, Sunday is a dream sequence of solidity: two titans battling to embellish their legends.
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