Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Focus on the Present, not Past in Making your Djokovic vs. Nadal Roland Garros Pick

Nearly everyone previewing the epic quarterfinal match between Djokovic and Nadal feels obliged to mention Nadal's nine previous French Open titles.  Some analysts seem to be switching their picks to Nadal based on his history and solid first week, but doing so is likely a rash decision.  There's no doubt Rafael Nadal is the greatest clay court player of all time, and one of the best players of all time on any surface.  However, Nadal hasn't been the player we're used to all year, and wins over a bunch of no names and Jack Sock don't mean vintage Nadal has returned. 

It's understandable why everyone is so hesitant to pick against Nadal at Roland Garros, as he simply doesn't lose there.  But at some point his results over the past few months have to count for more than what he did at the French Open in 2005.  Djokovic is number one in the world by a mile, and has already beaten Nadal convincingly on clay this year (as has Murray, Wawrinka, and Fognini).  In prior years Djokovic went into matches against Nadal at Roland Garros knowing he would have to play a perfect match to win.  Now, Djokovic knows he's the better player (even on clay), and that it won't take an otherworldly performance to get past the Spaniard.  

If anyone has earned our respect at a given tournament, it's Nadal at the French Open.  But picking Djokovic to win isn't "disrespecting" Nadal and his accomplishments, it's simply the more reasonable prediction based on the recent evidence.  Djokovic is on pace for an all-time great season, and Nadal has suffered several surprising losses in 2015, including on his beloved clay.  Instead of assuming Nadal will rediscover his top form at Roland Garros, we should realize Nadal simply isn't the player he used to be. 

During Nadal's reign over Roland Garros over the last decade, there wasn't anything "magical" about Roland Garros.  Nadal was by far the best clay court player in the world, and won nearly every clay court tournament he played no matter where it was located.  It's not like Nadal would come into the French Open struggling and would find his form once he set foot in Paris, rather he consistently came into the tournament with almost no losses in the French Open tuneups. 

It's certainly possible Djokovic's nerves are a factor and that Nadal plays closer to his level from past years.  However, fans shouldn't be surprised if the "match of the year" doesn't live up to its billing.  Their recent form and results suggest Djokovic will win rather comfortably, and we shouldn't pretend to be surprised when it happens.  

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