There’s one more late night on the cards tennis fans, as Stan Wawrinka will do his best to deny Rafa Nadal a mind bending 10th French Open title starting at 3pm local Paris time. This final matchup isn’t all that surprising, Rafa was expected to come through the bottom half of the draw and hasn’t lost a set whilst demolishing the Djokovic conqueror Dominic Thiem easily in a straight set semi final shellacking, 6-3, 6-4, 6-0.
Stan had a much tougher time wining a 4hr 34min five set semi against world number one Andy Murray. They are the only two sets Wawrinka has lost all tournament so both men are coming into Sunday’s match up in form and if the Swiss can recover from a marathon semi both will be 100% fit.
Stan will be vying for a 4th Grand Slam title after winning a Major the last 3 years, 2014 Australian, 2015 French and 2016 US Open, he’ll come into this match 3-0 in Grand Slam finals. This final will be Rafa’s 22nd Grand Slam Final, coming in with a 14-7 record. He is currently tied on the all time Grand Slam title list with Pete Sampras on 14. If he wins tonight moving to 15 will put him 3 behind Roger Federer on 18 and the ‘Bull from Mallorca’ will surely want to wash out the taste of that 5 set Australian Open loss to Federer from earlier this season.
Lets get into the nitty gritty of the actual match up tonight.
How Rafa can win
The head to head matchup is a nightmare for Stan, its 15-3 for Rafa. One of those wins for Stan did come on clay however, 2016 Rome 7-6, 6-2. For the purposes of this match it really means nothing, Rafa is uber confident and fears no one on his beloved clay. He is in such a clay court rhythm this season that he has the balance just right between when to attack and when to defend and he’ll try to frustrate Stan by getting back as many balls as possible, baiting the Swiss into going for too much.
Nobody is better than turning defense into offense so watch for Rafa when he is pulled wide on the forehand to loop high deep balls to Stan’s backhand to get the rally at least back to neutral. In six matches this tournament he has actually won a higher percentage of points on 2nd serves than 1st, meaning on Rafa’s service games how he serves won’t matter, it’s the rally’s that count.
If he continues to get the offense/defense balance right in the rally’s he’ll more than likely lift that 10th French crown.
How Stan can win
In this nightmare head to head match-up (3-15) they have played 3 times in Grand Slams, Rafa is ahead 2-1, the last match being the 2014 Australian Open Final which Stan won in 4 sets. Does that mean anything, probably not, 3 years in tennis is a lifetime but it will show Stan he can beat Rafa in a Slam. In a lot of ways this match is on Stan’s racquet. He obviously knows how to win big matches and being 3-0 in Grand Slam finals can play his best when it matters most.
Variety in the rally’s will be key for Stan, we know he has the firepower, both forehand and backhand he rips just as easily down the line as crosscourt but it’s the little dinks, drop shots and slices that could be useful in getting Rafa out of rhythm. Also that backhand up the line has to be working, its probably Stan’s best shot and watch out for it as he uses it either as a kill shot or to open up the rally. Unlike Rafa he will have to serve well, the more free points he gets on serve the less he’ll have to deal with Rafa in long extended rallies.
So, how wins and what’s the score? This is Rafa’s match to lose, most fans/pundits expect him to win, which makes Stan very dangerous, he’s never been a player to back down in the biggest moments, he will relish the underdog role and come out looking to be the aggressor. If he wins the 1st set its game on, if he doesn’t Rafa will suck the life out of him, as he does to everyone on clay and it could be a whitewash. My bet is it’s a close first set but ultimately Rafa wins in 3.