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Nadal and Djokovic hurtling to inevitable showdown?

Rafael Nadal ahead of his French Open semi-final
by Dan Imhoff
Friday 8 June 2012

(1) Novak Djokovic (SRB)  v (3) Roger Federer (SUI)

Twelve months ago, a vanquished Roger Federer stepped up to the plate in a French Open semi-final to put a stop to the 41-match unbeaten streak Novak Djokovic had accrued.

Fast forward to the semi-finals at Roland Garros for 2012 and the Swiss master faces the same man on the same stage, only this time with a greater slice of history to foil.

To complete the Grand Slam – winning all four majors in succession – is something neither Federer nor Rafael Nadal have been able to achieve. Djokovic is just two matches from achieving the feat but he will likely have to beat both his aforementioned rivals to do it.

Twice before (2006, 2007) Federer has found himself one match from completing the back-to-back Grand Slam. On both occasions it was Nadal who would deny him in the French Open decider.

Federer will take a 14-11 head-to-head record into the match although Djokovic has won five of their past six meetings, including their most recent, on clay in the Rome semi-finals.

It will count for little. Both have survived come-from-behind five-set quarter-final wins, Federer fighting back from two sets to love down for the seventh time in his career and Djokovic surviving four match points and a parochial French crowd to edge Jo Wilfried Tsonga in five sets.

After cruising early on, Djokovic has fought back in successive five-set matches, first from two sets down against Italian Andreas Seppi, and then in arguably the match of the tournament so far, against Tsonga.

Federer too, has done it the hard way, toiling to beat the unheralded trio – Adrian Ungur, Nicolas Mahut and David Goffin – in four sets, before the five-set comeback against Juan Martin del Potro.

Should Djokovic edge Federer to find himself in Sunday’s decider, odds are it will again be the relentless king of Roland Garros, Nadal, favoured to end a rivals’ bid for history at the final hurdle.

 

(2) Rafael Nadal (ESP) v (6) David Ferrer (ESP)

Having twice been the destroyer when Federer made his bid for the `Roger Slam’, Nadal too has found the weight of expectation – or at least the weight of a long season on a suspect knee – a tall order when history beckons.

The man to deny him the `Rafa Slam’ at last year’s Australian Open was good friend and fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, acknowledged as one of the tour’s fittest battlers and best movers, but rarely one to seriously trouble the top three on the biggest stages.

In today’s first semi-final, the Spaniards will lock horns for the fourth time in a major, where Ferrer surprisingly holds the margin 2-1. Nadal’s knee was a contributing factor in his quarter-final loss in Melbourne last year, but on clay and fully fit again, it will be a totally different ball game.

Both players have reached this year’s semi-finals in sublime form - until the quarter-finals, Nadal had dropped just 19 games, Ferrer just 25. Nadal is yet to drop a set and has conceded an average of just six games per match; Ferrer just one set (to Andy Murray) and an average of little more than eight games per match.

With both at full fitness, however, Nadal is better in all departments.

For the 13th time in 19 years at least one of the men’s finalists will be Spanish. They have owned Roland Garros and only a brave punter would tip against the 10-time major winner Nadal beating his good friend Ferrer for the 16th time in 20 meetings before going on to claim a record seventh Roland Garros crown.

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