Tuesday 26 September 2017

Tennis: Djokovic claims edge as Paris 'final' comes early

Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during his Men's Singles quarter final match against Tommy Haas
Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during his Men's Singles quarter final match against Tommy Haas

Simon Briggs

AS soon as the French Open draw was completed a fortnight ago, Novak Djokovic went into game-face mode. His press secretary announced that he would not be answering any questions that looked beyond his next match.

AS soon as the French Open draw was completed a fortnight ago, Novak Djokovic went into game-face mode. His press secretary announced that he would not be answering any questions that looked beyond his next match.

Djokovic knew the hot topic was his likely showdown with Rafael Nadal, a semi-final destined to bring together the two leading candidates for Roland Garros 2013. Yet he preferred not to spend his pre-tournament interview thinking five matches ahead; that would be disrespectful to the rest of the field.

Now we have negotiated the 124 encounters that make up the preliminary stages of a Grand Slam, and he cannot avoid the subject any longer. "I know this is the biggest challenge for me of Roland Garros," he said. "He (Nadal) has been the most dominant player in the history of the sport on this surface."

The men's event has thrown up plenty of memorable contests and romantic stories. In the end, though, the road was always going to lead us here, to Nadal v Djokovic on Court Philippe Chatrier tomorrow afternoon. And for all the excitement surrounding Jo-Wilfried Tsonga's first appearance in a French Open semi-final, few would doubt that the winner of this A-list showdown will go on to claim the Coupe des Mousquetaires. The final, in effect, has come 48 hours early.

Yesterday these two champions finished their matches barely five minutes apart. Both were decisive three-set wins.

Nadal was the first to come off court after handing out a ferocious pummelling to Stan Wawrinka.

These two players have contested 22 sets over their careers, and Wawrinka – who went down yesterday by a 6-2 6-3 6-1 margin – has yet to win one.

Djokovic was perhaps a little less dominant against the evergreen 35-year-old Tommy Haas in the other semi-final, which he won 6-3 7-6 7-5.

In any case, the preliminaries can largely be discarded when these two go up against each other. This will be their 35th meeting. And in the last few instances, Djokovic has felt like the man storming the citadel while Nadal mounts a desperate defence.

Their last meeting came in April, when Djokovic became the first man since 2003 to beat Nadal in the Monte Carlo Masters. "That is something that can maybe give me that mental edge when I step on to the court," he said.

"Knowing I already won against him on clay this season, knowing I can do it, even though not many players in last 10 years have won against him on this surface." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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