Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Challenges Remain, but Djokovic is Well Positioned for History

After thoroughly dismantling Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, Novak Djokovic is two matches away from the career Grand Slam.  A title here would also put him halfway to the 2015 Grand Slam, which he would have a decent (at worst) shot at winning.  Below is a look at who may present Djokovic's biggest challenge out of the remaining semifinalists.

Andy Murray:  Djokovic has beaten his semifinal opponent 7 straight times and 10 out of their last 11.  The world number one will be a heavy favorite, though this shouldn't take anything away from how great Murray has been.  Other than Murray's brief post Australian Open funk where he fell to Gilles Simon and Borna Coric, he hasn't lost to anyone but Djokovic this year.  But despite being a better overall player than Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Murray may have the worst chance of the three of pulling the upset.  As has been said many times before, Murray's game is similar to Djokovic's but Djokovic does most things a little bit better.  Whereas Wawrinka or Tsonga could catch fire and hit Djokovic off the court (at least for a set or two), Murray would have to find a way to beat Djokovic while playing a more reserved style.  He'll put forth a respectable showing, but in the end it's hard to see Murray pulling the upset.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:  Tsonga missed most of the early part of the year with injury, and didn't have a whole lot of momentum heading into Roland Garros.  However, when healthy Tsonga is always one of the most dangerous players on tour.  He's already dispatched Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori, and if he can get past Wawrinka would have a ton of confidence heading into the finals.  Further, the French crowd would be absolutely electric should Tsonga reach the finals, and Tsonga is the type of player who feeds of the crowd's energy.  But as big of a story as it would be, it's hard to see Tsonga finding a way to actually win 3 sets against Novak Djokovic.  Djokovic's defense is impenetrable, and can Tsonga really hit Djokovic off the court for 3 full sets on a clay court?  Tsonga has a ton of firepower in him, but it would take one of the best matches of his career along with a slightly off day by Djokovic to get it done. 

Stan Wawrinka:  While Wawrinka has had an up and down 2015, he may just have the best chance of the remaining semifinalists to take out Djokovic should he get past Tsonga first.  His head-to-head against Djokovic is extremely poor, but he has beaten him in a grand slam (the Aussie Open which he won) and has played him close on several other occasions.  Wawrinka has the firepower to hit anyone off the court, and has been on a tear this French Open.  Despite losing to Federer badly a couple weeks ago, he didn't even drop a set in their quarterfinal matchup.  He clearly is playing at a higher level than he has been all year, and no one looks forward to playing an in the zone Wawrinka.  This doesn't mean you should pick Wawrinka to win, but its conceivable that if Djokovic gets a bit tight with history on the line Wawrinka is ready to pounce.  Djokovic is probably going to be your 2015 French Open champion, but if anyone's going to stop him Wawrinka is the most likely candidate.

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