Why Novak Djokovic Will Win Roland Garros
By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com
May 2, 2013 — Novak Djokovic is on a mission this spring: to win Roland Garros. His victory is not assured, however it is highly likely. Here’s why.
He can overcome any obstacle, whether physical or mental, on any tennis court surface. In Paris, we see red. Red clay. Second, Djokovic’s game is pitch perfect for the optimal and desirable opponent — Rafael Nadal, The King of Clay.
In mid-April, Djokovic took a giant leap forward in his pursuit of his missing link for a career Grand Slam. He defeated Nadal at The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
The number-one Djokovic is only the second man to defeat the Spaniard since 2003. Had Nadal won, history would have written of his unprecedented nine Masters accumulated at the beautifully situated country club.
The week prior to this, Djokovic clinched the tie for Serbia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. And that’s where this prediction of French dominance begins.
During his match against Sam Querrery of the U. S., Djokovic took a nasty fall. The replay of his accident certainly convinced people of its intensity. Novak screamed and grabbed at his ankle. Fans went silent. The person Serbia counted on most looked doomed.
But Djokovic did not retire. He revived himself. The screams, ankle clutching, and limp to the sideline were merely reactions. He actually put aside his pain after a consultation with a medical team and a couple tablets of Ibuprofen. The need for his tennis skills was palpable, at least perhaps in his mind. He had to rise up and save his country’s and his own pride.
He threw himself into high gear and defeated Querrey by winning 6-1 6-0 in the last two sets. Some were incredulous. Was he faking that ankle sprain? Had the Djokovic of his pained past risen? No. All you had to do was review the video of the fall. That was the real deal.
Credible tennis journalists espoused the virtue of Nole’s grand feat.
Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine wrote, “’And what else could anyone think on Sunday afternoon, as they watched him hobble his way through an ankle injury, and Sam Querrey, in four sets to clinch Serbia’s quarterfinal tie over the United States. This was one of Djokovic’s most impressive performances of 2013, and an exercise in resilience for team’s sake.’”
Tignor went on to say that Novak demonstrated ‘efficiency and focus’ while his movement was compromised, adding, “‘That’s what playing for country and teammates can do for you.’”
Twitter sang Djokovic praises, as if he was inspired by, perhaps, a spiritual essence deep within or at least a highly selective intuitive nature of how to handle baffling situations. Perhaps Djokovic’s elimination of wheat gluten from his diet, plus a few go rounds inside the high-elevation recovery egg vessel had created a guidance system that gave him that pinch of push no one else on tour possessed.
Impossible to prove. But millions of people witnessed that match.
He, too, was incredulous when speaking with reporters. He said he really didn’t know how it all happened, that he ‘took some Advil and they kicked in.’ Yet his performance went well beyond that simple explanation; and he knew it.
Ten days later, on the Monday, May 10, the first day of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament Djokovic finally announced he would play. He was entered, but people speculated he might withdraw because of his ankle. His team announced it wasn’t the best, but good enough. Monaco had become Novak’s adopted home town, like for so many other tennis players, and he wanted to play a home tournament.
The news was a mixture of speculation about Rafael Nadal’s record of having won eight consecutive titles and how he would try ‘my very best’ for the ninth plus Djokovic’s, or any number of other players, chances of knocking Rafa off his Monaco thrown.
Djokovic started the week slowly. Losing first sets, but advancing in three, until the semifinals where he took out Jarko Niemnen in straight sets.
The Serbian was primed as Nadal sailed through his half.
Rain delayed the final but did not discourage French fans and dignitaries. The sun cast its brilliance on Centre Court and tennis balls began to fly.
The first set from Djokovic was nothing less than perfect. He showed no signs of ankle strain. His concentration, shot selection, timing on the ball, movement and serve set a high bar. The stadium was alive. And Nadal looked intent on reversing course.
He didn’t. Djokovic wrested his first Masters from his adopted home. If he wins Cincinnati this summer, he will have won all nine Masters 1000 titles. No one else can say that.
During the awards presentation, Nadal thanked Novak for winning his favorite tournament and Novak thanked Nadal for letting him win it once. Their passion for victory and their sportsmanship superseded any impulse to disrespect either champion.
Djokovic had started the week as ‘likely’ and finished on top. His ankle improved throughout the week, and his confidence along with it. To have come through against Nadal proved a consistency with resilience.
He was physically impaired, yet capable of surpassing that which would have stopped many. Djokovic’s ankle, though, can’t be compared to Nadal’s left knee. This chronic problem took him away from the game for 7 months. In this final, Nadal’s weakness was not a result of knee pain either.
The rain at the start of the match dampened the court. As a result, the ball did not bounce as high as it would have had the clay been drier. Therefore Nadal’s primary offense — his top spin — was compromised. Novak walloped the ball within a comfortable range strike zone. There were too many unforced errors, too, from Nadal. These were partially due to Djokovic’s fine ball placement and Nadal’s technique, especially his under-spin groundstrokes.
To predict Novak Djokovic will win the French Open based on two tournament performances could be viewed as a thin argument, especially considering that Nadal has lost one match out of 53 in Paris. Yet Djokovic has been gunning for this title since 2006, saying along the way that Nadal is beatable.
In 2011, his chances were the greatest. He had a brilliant start to the year, accumulating a record of 43-0 coming Roland Garros. But Roger Federer pulled a fast one on the Serbian, defeating him in an instant classic in the semifinals. Federer raised his finger to the sky in a gesture of triumph and poignant reminder that he is the number one man to beat.
Djokovic reached his first Paris final in 2012. He was number one in the world, too, as Nadal attempted his seventh title. Over two rain-soaked days and four sets, Djokovic came up short. He had won the Australian Open but could not surpass the passion and skills of a determined Nadal. Novak ended up losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon to Federer, and losing to Andy Murray in the U. S. Open final.
It’s a lot to assume they will meet in the 2013 final. Djokovic will come in as the number one seed, but the rest is up in the air. Andy Murray could be seeded #2 or Roger Federer could capture that honor, depending on results from Madrid and Rome. Nadal, though, will certainly not be seeded two. Therefore the draw will set the stage, as it always does. If Nadal falls on the opposite side from Djokovic, odds are in Nadal’s favor that he will persevere to the final Sunday.
Which man has more at stake? Which is prepared the best?
Djokovic has more at stake because Nadal already has 7 titles and because Djokovic is ready to suffer for pride and country and history. Plus, he has proven over and over — remember the match in Melbourne against Stanislaus Wawrinka — that he is in charge of the rabbit in the hat.
Nadal’s record in Paris is Djokovic’s biggest obstacle. He will also have to bury Nadal’s ability to up his game consistently, year after year, in a city that has not embraced his grunts, style of play, and his certainly un-French-like crass on-court mannerisms.
With all the assumptions cast about the draw and the perfectly imperfect extraneous elements of the game lurking … this is Novak Djokovic’s finest and most opportune chance to seal his place alongside the six other men with career Grand Slams. His pride beckons the association. And his pride could be that sine-qua-non that sparks this champion to that lofty place.
Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She has previously written for Tennis.com, TennisServer.com, and the late, great Tennis Week publication. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.