Roland Garros Final Preview Rafa Nadal Versus Stan Wawrinka
The 2017 Roland Garros final features Rafa Nadal seeking a historic La Decima and Stan Wawrinka aiming to make it four for four in Grand Slam finals. The Tennis Review looks ahead to the best possible final the French Open could have asked for.
Facing a favorite in the final of a grand slam has never fazed Stan Wawrinka, but he has never quite had to come up against as heavy a favorite as Rafa Nadal going into the 2017 Roland Garros final.
Nadal was, in fact, the Swiss’ first ever grand slam final vanquished opponent, the Swiss executing his slam winning explosive aggression versus the Spaniard in the 2014 Australian Open final, a match Nadal went into as the top seed and favorite, but found himself undone by both the Swiss’ improved mental strength and strategic powers and his own ailing body.
At Roland Garros ’15, the Swiss defeated the heavily fancied Novak Djokovic in one of the all time great slam final performances to take his second slam title.
Entering semis with a little fall 😲😫🤦🏻♂️🤕🛁🤔🙄😂🤷🏻♂️😎🤞🏻🤜🏻💥🤛🏻🏃🏻🎾💪🏻☀️🥐🍯🐻🐼!📸C.Dubreuil /FFT pic.twitter.com/l7KqUp0FAC
— Stanislas Wawrinka (@stanwawrinka) June 8, 2017
Even in the US Open ’16 final, the first slam final Wawrinka was arguably the favorite to win, Djokovic, the top seed and better fast hard court player, played well enough to win the first set. But an underwhelming injury-hit Djokovic run, helped along by withdrawals and favorable match ups, came to a brutal halt as Wawrinka took the match in four sets, and won his third slam trophy.
In this Roland Garros final, Wawrinka is as far away from being favorite as he is ever likely to be in a slam final. The Swiss is 3-15 versus the Spaniard in their career head to head, 1-4 on clay, and so the match up is already in Nadal’s favor. While head to heads can be turned on their heads in slam finals, as Wawrinka did himself in the 2014 Australian Open final versus Nadal, one thing which is not likely to change much, for someone leading the ATP race to London like Nadal is, barring injury, is form, and Nadal has looked unstoppable in his six matches coming in to the final, much as he has the entire clay season, dropping no more than four games a set, putting in one ten out of ten performance, one after another, on his way to La Decima, culminating in the semi-final versus Dominic Thiem in which the fourth seed dropped just seven games, winning the final set to love, putting together first and second serve winning percentages of 71 and 76, hitting 23 winners to 22 errors, and forcing the second best clay courter of 2017 into error after error, the pressure unraveling the Austrian in the most ruthless fashion.
Stan Wawrinka has looked unbeatable at times, too, most notably from late in the fourth set to winning match point in his semi-final versus top seeded Andy Murray. While the Swiss had his very beatable moments, too, in that match, Murray testing his patience and resolve to the max, the 2015 champion came through that test, and that will help him in the final where he will really find out what ‘to the max’ means, the test he will receive by Nadal on a whole new level of rigorousness than the four hour and 34 minute one he faced versus the Scot.
Against Wawrinka, Nadal will also be examined for the first time this French Open with the scrutiny one would expect a champion to undergo at the highest level of the sport. Wawrinka brings his very best to slam finals, and while it may take him a set or two to find it, he always delivers his all-out aggressive game in slam championship matches, the kind of game necessary to keep Nadal at bay.
The Swiss will not want to take too long to find that game this Roland Garros final, and he will have to deliver serve at a much higher percentage than he did versus Murray in the first set (53), getting it into the mid 70s. If he does that, he can take Nadal to tiebreakers in which the Swiss’ risky shot-making could pay off. It’s a big could, though. Nadal’s defense on clay is the best in the game, and Wawrinka will have to control his aggression and wait for his moment or his risky shots could backfire.
Nadal’s aggression is also the best in the clay court business. While it may not hit the peaks Wawrinka’s does, it is far more consistent and controlled than Wawrinka’s, and while Wawrinka’s defense is good, it will not be able to withstand the assault of Nadal’s heavy spin on his one handed backhand. Wawrinka may be better at handling that spin than other one handed backhanders out there, but there is only so much any one, single or double handed, can take on that side, or any side, in Nadal’s backyard, as the victims in his 78 wins at Roland Garros since 2005 can testify.
Only two men have survived Nadal at Roland Garros, Robin Soderling and Djokovic (2009 and 2015) and both men were helped along by injury and a lack of confidence, two factors which will not come into play in this year’s final. If Wawrinka is going to inflict only Nadal’s third loss at Roland Garros and win a fourth slam, he is going to have to do it the Soderling way, one more suited to his strengths, blowing him off the court, and if he does manage to produce his unbeatable best and do so, it will raise a healthy and confident Nadal’s game, too, producing the best possible scenario for the final, short of an inspiring upset by the Swiss, of Nadal winning the La Decima, the height of historical tennis achievements, at the height of his clay court capabilities
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