French Open 2013 – Men’s Semis

Djokovic v Nadal

Nadal leads the head to heads 19-15. Since the beginning of 2011 these two have met 11 times. Djokovic won all 6 of their matches in his wonder year 2011 (all finals) and that continued into the next meeting in the Australian Open final. The remaining 4 matches in 2012 were all clay finals and Nadal took them all. They have met just once this season which was in Monte Carlo and Djokovic took it in 2 sets.

They have met twice in best of 5 matches on clay. The first was a Davis Cup match in 2009 but the other was in last year’s French Open final. Nadal won them both.

I heard someone say this is the dream final but a round early and I have to agree. Whoever comes through it will have had to give everything we get an interesting final.

Both players have something extra to play for. Nadal is looking to be the first man to win the French Open title 8 times. In fact he would be the first to win any of the Grand Slams 8 times.

Djokovic is trying to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the French for the first time. As additional motivation is that he is trying to win it for his junior coach/second mother who died recently.

So how do we decide who will win? Lets look at this season. Nadal came back from his extended injury break in Chile and breezed through to the final before being beaten in 3 sets by Zeballos. I’d put that loss down to lack of match practise. He then won the next 3 titles and made it to the final in Monte Carlo where he lost to Djokovic. After that he won the titles in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome before coming to Roland Garros. So he has just 2 losses in 2013 and 42 wins. Any rustiness he suffered on his return to the tour has well and truly gone.

Djokovic started the year by winning the Hopman Cup and follower up by winning the Australian Open. The title in Dubai followed. He then hit a bad patch by his standards as he was knocked out in the semi finals in Indian Wells by Del Potro and the third round in Miami by Haas. He won Monte Carlo but lost in his first match in Madrid to Dimitrov. Before coming to Paris he was beaten by Berdych in the Rome quarter finals. So this season he has 37 wins and 5 losses.

Djokovic is very motivated this week but Nadal has come back from 6 months away from the tour with even greater enthusiasm than before. His record at the French Open is 57 wins and just 1 loss. No one will ever get close to that record and its something he will not want to tarnish without giving absolutely everything.

Their stats over the last 3 months are almost identical. The only relevant stat with much of a difference is for break points saved and Nadal’s 65% beats Djokovic’s 61.9%.

Despite Djokovic winning their last meeting on clay I think Djokovic has looked the more vulnerable of the 2 in the latter stages of  this tournament. Over 5 sets Nadal still has the edge at Roland Garros.

Nadal in 4 or maybe 5.

Update: Nadal took the opening set and was a break up in the second. Djokovic broke back and took the next 3 games for the set. In set 3 Djokovic seemed to be in trouble physically and Nadal took it 6-1. 

Set 4 was where things got interesting. Nadal was again a break up and he served for the match twice but was broken each time. Djokovic took the set in a tie break.

Set 5 saw Djokovic take an early lead and he looked like he was going to book his place in Sunday’s final. Nadal finally broke back for 4-4 and eventually took the set 9-7.

Nadal won 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7, 9-7.

 

Ferrer v Tsonga

Wow I have spent hours on this one! So tough to call.

Ferrer leads the head to heads 3-1 including their only previous clay court meeting. Tsonga’s win came at Wimbledon in 2011.

Tsonga’s win over Federer is what is making this one so hard to predict. Tsonga has a new coach who put together a game plan to beat Federer. It worked perfectly but Federer made the task a lot easier than anyone expected. A new coach can often make an immediate but short term improvement to a player’s performance. So what’s the game plan against Ferrer? He will need to hit bombs from the service line because if he gets into rallies then the game plan is to hit one more shot than Ferrer. Not many can do that consistently.

No Frenchman has won the French Open since Yanick Noah won in 1983. If Tsonga can get to the final he is likely to  be playing an opponent who came through an epic battle to get there. The weight of expectancy on his shoulders may just prove too much. It was a little easier to execute the game plan against Federer as he wasn’t really expected to win.

Ferrer hasn’t really been tested so far which obviously isn’t his fault but I expect him to have to dig deep in the semi final. He will fight for every point as he won’t be getting the cheap points that Tsonga will be getting on serve. However that is nothing new for Ferrer. He has worked on and improved his own serve significantly in the last 12 to 18 months.

Ferrer has admitted he can’t beat the top 4 at the grand slams. He has reached one previous semi final at Roland Garros which was last year. He lost to Nadal in that one and to be honest he will be a massive underdog if he does make it to the final so in real terms today is his final.

You won’t find 2 men with bigger hearts. It’s possible that Tsonga suffers a slight let down after his win in the quarter finals but I think that match will  more affect the French public’s expectations of him. They will see him as a strong favourite for this match and you can bet there will have already have been talk of him equalling Noah’s achievement in a similar way to the pressure put on Murray at Wimbledon. Tsonga is always very aware of the crowd and he can get excited when on the verge of achieving a great win. That could force him to go for the big winner too soon in a rally when Ferrer is just getting everything back.

The final will be more of a spectacle with Tsonga in it but I would love to see Ferrer take what may be his last chance of reaching a Grand Slam final and today I think he will achieve his dream.

Update: In the first game Tsonga won the first 2 points on Ferrer’s serve. Ferrer held and immediately broke Tsonga’s serve. Tsonga was a shadow of the player that beat Federer as the occasion choked his game.

Ferrer took the set but in set 2 it was Tsonga who went into a 3-0 lead and we had a match on our hands. Ferrer fought back and took the set in a tie break. He finished the job in straight sets.

Ferrer won 6-1, 7-6, 6-2.

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