French Open men's singles final preview: Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
Image: Matthew Stockman

The final that many of us expected will come to fruition on Sunday with world number one Novak Djokovic taking on world number two Rafael Nadal for the French Open title. 

It will be an ATP record-extending 56th meeting between the two, and an eighth meeting at Roland Garros.

Djokovic is hoping for a second title at the French Open which will not only see him win an 18th Grand Slam and edge close to Nadal and Roger Federer in the Grand Slam title race, but also become the first man in the open era to win every Grand Slam tournament on multiple occasions.

Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2012 French Open final (Image: Mike Hewitt)
Nadal beat Djokovic in the 2012 French Open final (Image: Mike Hewitt)

It will be a fourth straight title and record-extending 13th title in Paris should Nadal prevail, and he would also equal Federer's total of 20 Grand Slam titles with victory on Sunday. 

Head to Head: Djokovic ahead, but Nadal leads on clay

It is Djokovic who leads the head-to-head 29-26 and the Serbian has had the edge in their historic rivalry in recent seasons.

The Serbian has won 14 of their last 18 meetings and is also one of just two men to beat Nadal at the French Open, beating the Spaniard in straight sets at the tournament in the quarterfinal five years ago.

Though he has the overall edge in the rivalry the two are on level terms when it comes to Grand Slam finals, with four wins each over the other at this stage, though the world number one leads 15-11 in overall tour finals.

Djokovic beat Nadal in the Australian Open final last year (Image: Julian Finney)
Djokovic beat Nadal in the Australian Open final last year (Image: Julian Finney)

Nadal has won both previous finals at Roland Garros between the two, beating Djokovic in four sets in 2012 and 2014, and that loss to the Serbian in 2015 was the only loss in the seven meetings between the two at the tournament.

The Spaniard is also in control of their rivalry on clay, having won 17 of their 24 meetings on the surface and with his last win over Djokovic coming at the Italian Open on clay last season.

Road to the final

It was plain sailing for Djokovic early on in Paris as he reached the last eight without dropping a set, though he has had a trickier time since then.

There were signs of neck and shoulder issues as he had to come from a set down to beat 17th seed Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarterfinal, before needing five sets to beat fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and reach a fifth Roland Garros final.

Similarly, Nadal cruised through his opening four matches with very little trouble and has in fact reached the final without dropping a set, though his last two matches have proven more difficult.

Nadal celebrates his semifinal win over Diego Schwartzman (Image: John Berry)
Nadal celebrates his semifinal win over Diego Schwartzman (Image: John Berry)

The world number two overcame a lengthy first set to beat unseeded Jannik Sinner in their late-night quarterfinal clash, before battling past 12th seed Diego Schwartzman in three tight sets to reach a 28th Grand Slam final.

Analysis

So much has been made of the conditions in Paris this tournament, and they could play a significant factor in this contest.

The slower, heavier courts should favor Djokovic and the cooler conditions due to the tournament being played in October will likely also benefit the Serbian, with Nadal generally preferring warmer conditions and faster courts.

Djokovic will likely use the slow conditions to frustrate Nadal with his defensive skills, working his way into rallies and forcing errors out of the Spaniard, as well as trying to take control on return when he gets an opportunity on second serve.

The main concern for the 18-time Grand Slam champion is whether he has fully shaken off the neck and shoulder issues that plagued him in his quarterfinal, and if being pushed to five sets in his semifinal has affected him physically in anyway. 

Conditions may favor Djokovic (Image: TPN)
Conditions may favor Djokovic (Image: TPN)

Meanwhile, Nadal has progressively improved throughout the tournament and tougher matches in his past two matches may have helped him warm up for this encounter nicely.

The Spaniard will likely look to dictate play and is likely to be the more aggressive of the two, as he looks to control proceedings with a strong serving performance and his bruising forehand

The biggest concern for Nadal will be the conditions tomorrow, and whether he is frequently able to generate enough pace and power to hit through the world number one on what will likely be a heavy and slow court.

Assessment

In what is arguably the greatest rivalry in ATP history, it is always hard to predict who will win when Djokovic and Nadal face off.

Conditions certainly favor Djokovic and he has perhaps played the better tennis in Paris, though Nadal has lost just twice in 101 matches at Roland Garros and the unfavorable conditions have not had too much impact so far.

It’s a tough one to call but if Djokovic is ever going to win a second French Open title it will be now, and in these slower conditions he may just be able to edge this potentially classic encounter.

Prediction: Novak Djokovic in five sets

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