French Open final preview: Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka
PARIS – No. 1 Novak Djokovic will try to complete his set of Slams trophies on Sunday when he faces No. 8 seed Stan Wawrinka in the French Open final.
The Coupe des Mousquetaires is the trophy Djokovic wants more than anything. He has fallen short twice at the hands of Rafael Nadal. Even in the face of a tough draw this year he's passed every hurdle with only the slightest of wobbles. In the quarterfinals he finally got his first win over Nadal in seven tries in Paris, throwing down a dominant straight set win. Then, in a tricky semifinal against the only other undefeated man on clay this season, Djokovic overcame a dip in form and a stoppage of play to beat Andy Murray 6–3, 6–3, 5–7, 5–7, 6–1 in a match that finished on Saturday afternoon.
After finishing off the win on Saturday afternoon, Djokovic, a player known for taking his time after matches, raced to the interview room to get his media duties out of the way so he could get his recovery underway. He will go into Sunday's final having played two days in a row. Wawrinka, who beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets on Friday, will have had a day off.
"It wasn't physically easy match, that's for sure, but I think I will be fine for the finals," Djokovic said after beating Murray. "Whatever rest I have in me, whatever I have left in me I will put out on the court tomorrow, and hopefully it can be enough."
Djokovic came into the tournament as the favorite given his monstrous eight months, which has seen him win every big title since November. In that span he has won the Australian Open, the last five ATP Masters 1000s and the ATP World Tour Finals. He has lost just two matches all season and is undefeated since February.
"There is always a little bit of extra motivation for me coming into Roland Garros," Djokovic said. "It is obviously very encouraging knowing that I have won all of the big events from last October, and playing some of my best tennis in the life, and coming into Roland Garros with that amount of confidence helps. Encourages me to step on the court and compete."
But this isn't the first time things looked aligned for a Djokovic breakthrough in Paris. In 2011 he came into the tournament undefeated on the season before he was upended by another Swiss man, Federer, in the semifinals. Djokovic says this time it's different.
"2011 was results-wise the best year of my career, no doubt about it," Djokovic said. "But this year I'm just able to handle things that are on the court and also off the court present in my life in a much better and more mature way. So I like the player that I am today more than the one that I was in 2011, even though I have had the best season of my career."
Of all the players that could have come out of the bottom half of the draw, Wawrinka may be the most dangerous final opponent for the Serb. Djokovic has won 17 of their 20 matches but given Wawrinka's late-career turnaround, their head-to-head is irrelevant. Their last four matches at the majors have all gone five sets, most recently in January in the semifinals of the Australian Open, which Djokovic won 7–6, 3–6, 6–4, 4–6, 6–0.
"My game, when I play my best, I know I can beat all the players," Wawrinka said. "I'm not playing my best every tournament so far. So I'm just trying to focus every match. I have been playing really well since the beginning of the tournament. I have been really focused on the way I'm playing, on the way I'm dealing mentally with my pressure, with the way I want to go into this tournament. I'm quite surprised and really happy the way I have been playing the last few matches."
Those last few matches include a dominant 6–4, 6–3, 7–6 win over his compatriot Roger Federer and a win over No. 14 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on a hot day in Paris. The Swiss is into his second major final of the last 16 months, having won the Australian Open last year. He was junior champion in 2003 at the French Open, but he's surprised as anyone that he'll be playing for a title on Sunday.
"Well my dream was to play Roland Garros, not to win it, not to reach the finals," Wawrinka said. "To me, the players that did that were mutants. The fact that I have reached the finals now here is something exceptional after winning a Grand Slam in Australia a year ago now. And to think that this is yet another final in yet another Grand Slam, it's something amazing."
Don't let the words fool you. Wawrinka isn't just happy to be there on Sunday. This is a big opportunity for him against a player he knows he can beat if he plays his powerful game. The weather is forecast to be another sunny and warm day, which should benefit Wawrinka's bigger shots. He was able to break down both Federer and Tsonga with a barrage of heavy balls to their weaker backhand sides. That's not a weak wing for Djokovic, but the same tactic will allow him to push the Serb back behind the baseline.
"I know that he's not always happy to play me when I can play my game," Wawrinka said. "When I can play my aggressive game he's not feeling his best normally. So I will have to focus on myself and try to bring my A game."
With both men going for their first French Open titles on Sunday, how will nerves affect the match? Even if Djokovic loses on Sunday it's hard to shake the idea that a French Open title is just a matter of time. For 30-year-old Wawrinka, this golden opportunity may never come again.
"He's been amazing so far this year winning every big title, playing his best tennis ever," Wawrinka said. "But, again, he never won the French Open. For sure we both gonna be nervous. That's a fact. Maybe he's gonna play his best tennis and beat me straight sets. But I know we have been having some big fight on the hard courts."