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Tennis Balls • Ricky’s Takeaways From Nadal’s Victory Over Djokovic In The French Open

By Ricky Dimon

It’s 20 to 20 in 2020.

Rafael Nadal tied Roger Federer atop the all-time men’s singles Grand Slam titles list by winning his 20th on Sunday afternoon at Roland Garros. Nadal made surprisingly routine work of what was billed as a blockbuster French Open final, beating Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.

Expected winner, unexpected score

I did think Nadal would win. I had him before the tournament (albeit beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the final); and I had him beating Djokovic when the championship matchup was set. But it was by no means a slam-dunk prediction. I was actually leaning toward Djokovic initially, thinking that their recent head-to-head history was more lopsided in the Serb’s favor than it really was. But Nadal was a solid 3-3 in their previous six meetings, including 3-0 in their last three clay-court encounters. Knowing that his old mental block against Djokovic should no longer be a factor, I fortunately switched to Nadal.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after winning against Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

That certainly isn’t to say I thought it would be easy. Conditions are obviously not as good for Nadal this time of year and even when they are perfect for him, Djokovic is no pushover on clay. Plus, the world No. 1’s bizarre physical problems that popped up in the quarterfinals against Pablo Carreno Busta were completely absent in the semis against Tsitsipas.

Injuries were not among Djokovic’s problems on Sunday. Nadal, of course, was the top seed’s biggest problem. And the conditions–even with the Court Philippe-Chatrier roof closed–didn’t help. They were simply too slow for Djokovic to hit through. First serves and cross-court backhands that would go for winners at the Australian Open (such as when he trounced Nadal in straight sets in the 2019 final) were returned by Nadal with interest this time around. And with the Spaniard’s unforced error count next to nothing on Sunday, Djokovic had little choice but to win points with winners. When he couldn’t do it, he either overhit and made errors or bailed out of rallies with drop-shots–most of which did not work.

LOL, Goran

Prior to the semifinals, Goran Ivanisevic–who coaches Djokovic–predicted a win for his charge if the two all-time greats were to meet in the final. And he did so with confidence.

“I think Nadal has no chance in these conditions,” Ivanisevic boasted. “Novak has gotten into his head and is the favorite…. I think Novak is clearly the number one favorite to win Roland Garros.”

That’s how it started. How it ended? a Djokovic loss in easy straight sets.

I love Goran (his 2001 Wimbledon final victory over Patrick Rafter remains probably my favorite match ever along with the 2004 French Open final won by Gaston Gaudio over Guillermo Coria), but that’s just hilarious. People always talk about tweets that didn’t age well. Well, this statement by Goran didn’t age well. Not at all!

What next?

Although Nadal already led Djokovic 19-17 in the slam race, it was the world No. 2 who actually needed this one more. At 20 to 20 to 17, Nadal and Federer still have a chance of holding off Djokovic. If it had been 20 to 19 to 18 going into next year, Serb would have been a clear favorite to be the eventual slam leader. Although Djokovic is only one year younger than Nadal, he has more chances each season because he is such an incredible all-court player. Yes, Nadal is also great on every surface; but it’s obvious that he is not quite on Djokovic’s level on hard courts or grass.

Based on how Nadal looked this fortnight (he didn’t drop a single set!), he appears to be in line for at least one more French. Federer would need a borderline miracle to win another one, but I don’t think Wimbledon is entirely out of the question.
How about a three-way tie at 21 to 21 to 21 when it’s all said and done? It’s unlikely, sure, but–as we have seen throughout this crazy year in tennis and life in general–stranger things have happened.
Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.