The reason I posted the video of Rafael Nadal in Monte-Carlo is because it was there that “this” all started. “This” being the debate that Nadal should be seeded higher for the French Open based on his overall career and not his current ranking. Of course, the FFT (French Tennis Federation) decided that to have a debate would be inappropriate. Which is odd considering that there’s nothing that France loves more than a good soul-searching debate.
Whether you believe it’s the FFT’s fault, Andy Murray’s fault for withdrawing (for good reason mind you) or Maria Sharapova’s fault for having literally cast the draw, we now are here with Djokovic and Nadal set to face off in the “final” to end all semifinals. Nevermind the other semifinal that, except for France, is largely being ignored. Though it may be relegated to undercard status by most tennis fans, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga versus David Ferrer is actually the main event in Paris thanks to French TV who, according to the rumors out there, asked for Tsonga/Ferrer to be the second match so to fit into their primetime schedule.
And why not? After all, Tsonga has a chance to become the first Frenchman to reach the men’s finals since Henri Leconte back in 1986. Very few are giving Tsonga a real chance to win the title, but if he does get to Sunday, it will certainly have the local crowd rooting against whomever he faces.
But back to Djokovic and Nadal. It’s been an off-kilter tournament for both, but in different ways. Nadal, in very un-Nadal like fashion, dropped the opening set in his first two matches. He chalked that up to being “nervous” and soon mended his ways with the usual routs he is known for on the terre battue.
Djokovic, who usurped Nadal in Monte Carlo, had to deal with the unexpected passing of his first coach Jelena Gencic. That personal loss now inspires Djokovic who stated that he feels the presence of his late coach and is now even more committed to finally winning the one Major that has eluded him. Djokovic did drop one set to Philipp Kohlschreiber, who oddly plays well against the Serbian, but Djokovic rebounded and then took out ageless wonder Tommy Haas who is probably the only 35-year-old man who can get away with wearing a backwards baseball cap on a tennis court.
Meeting in the semis is nothing new for both Djokovic and Nadal. After all, before they became the must see rivalry of the sport, both men faced off in 11 semifinals as part of their career 34 match head to head record. Since Paris 2009, it’s all been finals from there on (if you exclude their round robin meetings at the ATP Tour Finals). It will be their 10th Grand Slam meeting, putting them in second place all-time behind Djokovic versus Roger Federer at 11 encounters in the Majors. This will be Djokovic’s 12th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, again putting him in second place behind Federer at a whopping 23.
Perhaps being in a semi instead of a final will work in Djokovic’s favor. His performance against Nadal in last year’s final, all rain delays aside, was an up and down one. And with the weather on Sunday, at least for now, expected to be full of rain, Djokovic might prefer to not have to worry about starting and stopping, especially if he gets the momentum early. But still, this is Nadal’s court and if the Spaniard has learned his lesson from Monte Carlo after that loss, it’s hard not to see him prevail once again and reach the final that many feel would be just a formality for him en route to raising the trophy a remarkable eighth time.
Having watched enough tennis now, I can say for sure that tomorrow is not the first, nor will it be the last time, that a semifinal will be considered a “final”. And instead of fans dwelling on such words as “travesty” or “injustice”, rather they should just enjoy being able to once again watch these two great champions battle it out on one of the sport’s great stages.
Djokovic said, “it is what it is” to describe facing his main rival for the title perhaps a stage too early. And that’s probably the best way to leave it.