Roland Garros Final Preview Novak Djokovic Vs Andy Murray History Awaits
One match, and two opponents, stand between Novak Djokovic, a first Roland Garros trophy, and his picture on the front page of the tennis history books.
If the world No.1 wins the Roland Garros final versus Andy Murray, he will be the first man to hold all four Grand Slams since Rod Laver in 1969, and the first man to hold them on three different surfaces.
That feat would go down as arguably the greatest in tennis history. One which has been beyond even the likes of Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, players who won three consecutive slams, eventually won all four, but could not hold all four at once.
One match to go, and two opponents to down. One of them, Andy Murray, is the second seed and his recent conqueror in the Rome final. The second one, the most dangerous, is Djokovic himself.
Murray will be the third player Novak Djokovic has faced for the Roland Garros trophy after Rafa Nadal (2012, 2014) and Stan Wawrinka (2015).
Nadal, the nine time champion, was too tough to overcome in a final Slam match he has never lost. Wawrinka was too aggressive in his shot-making, hitting through one of tennis’ greatest walls.
Murray is not known for his mental toughness in slam finals or for outhitting his opponents, and if he is going to defeat Djokovic it will be with his tactical skills, employed so well in his semi-final win over Stan Wawrinka, and with his variety of shot, which can disrupt the three time runner-up’s rhythm.
Those Murray strengths will have to be at their optimum if they are going to be as effective as Nadal’s mental strength or Wawrinka’s heaviness of shot against Novak Djokovic in a Major final.
For while Djokovic could do little against either Nadal or Wawrinka doing what they do best, he will be capable of shutting Murray out from the get-go, and while he may have the odd lapse, he can keep Murray at bay all the way to converting championship point.
The reigning Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open champion has a few winning tactics of his own, the kind that have seen him defeat Murray 23-10 times, 4-1 on Clay, and 4-2 in Slam finals.
Djokovic can hit with enough depth of shot, and with enough angle, to keep Murray behind the baseline and out wide, on the defense, taking away the time the Scot needs to mix things up. He can also put pressure on Murray’s serve, a shot which has improved in recent weeks, but which has not been tested under the pressure produced by a slam final.
Murray can get Djokovic on the run, too, if he plays aggressively enough, and he can also get him off-balance with slice, and bring him into the net with drop shots and then lob or pass him. But, for the most part, Murray only executes such play in short bursts, apart from odd matches now and then, before he withdraws inside himself, usually once Djokovic has managed to turn defense into offense, taken control of the point, and shaken Murray’s confidence.
If Murray is able to take this match on and dictate play, like he did in their 2013 Wimbledon final, and in several of their ATP 1000 finals, then he may set off another weapon at his disposal. One ticking inside Djokovic’s head. One that tends to go off in every Roland Garros final Djokovic has played since the chance to win the Non Calendar Year Grand Slam (2012) or complete the Career Grand Slam (2014, 2015) has come his way- the time bomb that is history.
While Murray can come into his first Roland Garros final with nothing to lose, and take a few calculated risks on big points early on, Djokovic has plenty to let slip from his grasp, and the memories of witnessing his tennis dreams shattered across the Parisian Clay too many times for comfort may get in the way of him seizing the moment.
Unlike other years, however, when tough schedules, illness, and a tough final opponent have gotten in the world No.1’s way, Djokovic’s potentially imminent grip on history is looking quite firm.
The Serbian has dropped just one set this tournament, to Roberto Bautista Agut, in the kind of nightmarish conditions his rivals could not have dreamed up better- muddy courts on which the world No.1 could not slide, battling one of the tour’s most dogged and consistent competitors, and a rain-hit stop and start schedule from which no rhythm could be worked up.
Still, the No.1 came through, and that match may be looked back on in the same way as Djokovic’s win versus Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon 2015, or against Gilles Simon in this season’s Australian Open- trials against opponents employing the right strategy, trials overcome by undoing that strategy, trials which set him up perfectly for the remaining hurdles to clear.
It seems to be looking that way already. Since that Bautista-Agut match, Djokovic has sailed through the draw, defeating Berdych and Thiem both in straights.
Getting those matches won without much fuss means that unlike last year, Djokovic will also have a full day off before the final.
Barring a stomach virus like the one that hurt him in 2014, or the kind of weather that interrupted his fine streak of play in the 2012 final, Djokovic may go into this year’s French Open final as healthy and rested as he ever has.
This will be quite a different Djokovic to the one Murray beat in Rome, a Djokovic who had played a final set tiebreak versus Kei Nihsikori the previous evening and came into the final with his ankle strapped.
A healthy Djokovic will go into the final as a favorite against a player he has won twelve of his last fourteen matches against since Miami 2014, who he is a vastly more experienced clay court player than at the highest levels, and against whom his clay court skills and mental toughness are superior.
But he will only justify that status if he can overcome any doubts he may have about being one of tennis’ all-time greats, doubts that only come up at Roland Garros, just as they came up for Ivan Lendl at Wimbledon. If Djokovic does get close to cementing that status, and if he is within a service game of holding all four Slams at once, will he be able to hold his nerve? Will he be able to serve out a piece of history?
It won’t be easy against a Murray who has shown plenty of fight this event, defeating qualifier Radek Stepanek and wildcard Mathias Bourges in five sets in his opening rounds, and, if his last three matches are anything to go by, is executing his much improved clay court skills with clear headed self-belief.
That question of whether Djokovic can fight off Murray, and himself, is what will make this final one to watch, whatever the quality of play might be.
Watch highlights of Murray versus Djokovic in the Roland Garros 2015 Semi-Final below:
Djokovic and Murray have not served up the best spectacles in their six Slam finals, tending to try and force errors from the baseline rather than take the match on against a rival they know is better than anyone at disarming aggression.
They can deliver at slams, though, and served up a real drama in their 2015 Roland Garros Semi-final in which Murray fought back from two sets to love down to take the match to a fifth set, and if we are lucky, such a historic match as this will be graced with similar twists and turns.
Whatever happens quality-wise, this match will at the very least provide a great historic spectacle. Novak Djokovic versus Andy Murray, the world’s current two best clay-courters fighting to fulfill their potential on tennis’ trickiest surface at one of the sport’s toughest events, perhaps never more so than it has been this year in a flooded Paris, conquering both their rival, and their own self-doubts. Djokovic finally mastering the French and holding all four slams, or Murray becoming the first British winner at Roland Garros since Fred Perry in 1935.
A sight that, however ugly play gets, will bring us, at the very least, some degree of beauty.
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