Friday, January 19, 2018
Sports

Rafa vs. Djoker: A battle for No. 1

PARIS — Five things to look for in today's French Open men's final:

NADAL VS. DJOKOVIC: No. 1-seeded Rafael Nadal is bidding for a ninth championship at Roland Garros. No. 2 Novak Djokovic is eyeing his first, which would complete a career Grand Slam. Whoever wins will be ranked No. 1 on Monday. There should be very few surprises during the match. "We know each other very well," Nadal, 28, said. This will be their 42nd matchup, more than any other pair of men in the Open era, which began in 1968. It's also their 12th Grand Slam meeting, another record — one more than Nadal and Djokovic each have played against Roger Federer at the four majors.

"MENTALLY STRONG": Nadal leads head-to-head 22-19, including 8-3 at Slams and 5-0 at the French. But Djokovic, 27, won their past four, including on clay in the final at Rome last month. The coaches of both dismissed the significance of that, though. "You know Rafa. He is mentally strong. He (forgot about) that match," said Marian Vajda, who works with the man nicknamed "Djoker". Said Toni Nadal, Rafael's uncle and coach: "It's true that Novak beat Rafael in Rome, but it's true that Rafael has won many matches here in this court." True. His nephew is 65-1 at the French, including 34 wins a row. The Spaniard's only loss came in the 2009 fourth round to Robin Soderling.

PAST TWO YEARS: From 2006-08, Nadal denied Federer a career Slam by beating him in the French final (Federer eventually won the trophy in 2009, beating Soderling in the final). Djokovic's first shot at completing a set of major titles with one from Paris came in the 2012 final, which was spread over two days because of rain. Nadal won 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. In last year's semis, Djokovic was up a break in the fifth and serving at 4-3, 40-all, when the Serb hit volley smash winner, but his momentum pushed him into the net. Players are not allowed to touch the net, so Djokovic, who argued that his shot already had cleared the court and couldn't be reached by Nadal, lost the point. Nadal went on to win 9-7.

STYLES: In many ways, Djokovic and Nadal are similar. They are among the game's best movers — Nadal powering his way around the court; Djokovic twisting his body this way and that. They defend tremendously and switch to offense with zero hesitation. They also are top returners. All of that adds up to long points, particularly on clay. One key could be how well Nadal's backhand holds up. It was a trouble spot in the quarters against David Ferrer, prompting Nadal to run around that side and hit his uppercut of a forehand as much as possible.

WEATHER: Nadal loved the sudden turn from two weeks of cloudy, chilly conditions to sun and warmth in the semis, because his big topspin forehand is much more effective when it's hot and dry. Djokovic, meanwhile, appeared to struggle with the change in weather. There's a chance of rain this morning and again in the evening, but it's supposed to be clear when they play in the afternoon. The temperature is supposed to approach 80 degrees.

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