History is on the line for Rafael Nadal, who is looking for his 10th French Open title on the clay courts of Roland Garros (9am ET Sunday).
Nadal’s clay court dominance throughout his career has always been a talking point but recently, it has been Stan Wawrinka who has opened eyes on the tennis courts. Wawrinka will be seeking his fourth major Defeating Nadal on clay however is no easy task and while Wawrinka does own a recent victory against his opponent from the final of the 2014 Australian Open, this is Nadal and this is clay. It’s a whole different beast and Wawrinka will need to be just about perfect on Sunday to conquer it.
Rafael Nadal’s Road to the Finals
In 2014, Rafael Nadal won his record-extending ninth French Open title. The championship was his fifth in a row on the clay courts of Roland Garros and ninth in 10 years. Nadal’s career run through the French Open has been absolutely extraordinary but even his greatness had its limits. 2015 and 2016 passed without Nadal winning a single grand slam, marking the first time since 2005, when he won his first major, that the Spaniard had gone two consecutive years without winning a major. More alarmingly however, was the fact that in those two years, Nadal failed to advance to the semifinals at his premier grand slam, casting doubt that a 10th title was still a possibility.
Injuries had plagued Nadal over those last few years but when 2017 began, there were signs that a career resurgence was well within reach. Nadal played incredibly well on his way to the Australian Open final, his first in three years. Nadal faced and lost to long-time rival, Roger Federer, but it was his performance and stamina in that five-set final and the tournament as a whole that supported the fact that Nadal could win another major, especially on his surface. When he won his 29th and 30th Masters titles after a nearly flawless clay court season, Nadal emerged as the legal American sportsbooks’ favorite to take home the title at Roland Garros.
With just one more match remaining between himself and that victory, Nadal certainly has not disappointed. Proving the bookies right, Nadal has looked like the picture of health over the course of the French Open, requiring a minimum of just 14 sets (his opponent in the quarterfinal retired after the second set). More than that, his matches have looked and felt easy, which is important given his history of knee injuries.
Stan Wawrinka’s Road to the Finals
Stan Wawrinka spent most of his early tennis career being the “other” Swiss tennis player. Always in Roger Federer’s enormous shadow, it wasn’t until the end of the 2013 season, when he reached his first grand slam semifinal at the U.S. Open, that Wawrinka started to become a household name all on his own.
Since 2014, Wawrinka has reached the quarterfinals or better in all but three of his 13 majors. Prior to 2014, he had reached the quarterfinals a total of three times in 10 years. Additionally, Wawrinka has reached four semifinals and won three majors, including at the French Open in 2015.
Wawrinka’s road to the final this year wasn’t quite as easy as Nadal’s but the 32-year-old Swiss man was still very impressive. Wawrinka had a tricky draw but navigated it with relative ease. He needed five sets to overcome Andy Murray in the semifinal but played an easy final set to win 6-1. What awaits him however is no easy task as Wawrinka does not have a great track record against Nadal throughout his career.
What Can we Learn from the 2014 Australian Open Final?
Stan Wawrinka won his first major at the Australian Open and it just so happened, this was also his first career victory against Rafael Nadal.
Wawrinka was seeded eighth in the tournament, needing to get past top seed Nadal in the final and second seed Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. It made him the first player since 1993 to defeat the two top seeds in the same tournament. Wawrinka’s win also made him the first man since Juan Martin del Porto at the 2009 U.S. Open, to win a grand slam title from a position outside of the so-called ‘Big Four.’
For some, Wawrinka’s win is considered to be the start of a ‘Big Five’ as his major success as of late has equaled and in some cases bettered that of Murray. Prior to that victory however, he was just a surprise participant in a major final that no one really expected to breakthrough. But breakthrough he did. Wawrinka defeated Nadal in four sets, including coming back from an 0-40, 5-3 deficit in the first set. Winning this one really set the tone as Wawrinka responded by breaking Nadal on serve immediately in the second set.
It is hard to glean anything particular from this victory since prior to it Wawrinka had never even managed to take a set off of Federer, much less an entire match. Not to mention, this final took place on the hard courts of Melbourne, which historically has been Nadal’s worst major with just the one title in 2009. What can be determined however is that this victory gave Wawrinka the confidence to know that he can in fact defeat Nadal and he is going to need every bit of that confidence on Sunday.
French Open Final Betting Predictions & Picks Verdict
Nadal is not called the “King of the Clay” for no reason. Over the course of tennis history, no player has been more consistent on the surface, no player has been better on the surface and no player has won as many titles, grand slam or otherwise, on clay courts. Nadal has beaten everyone on the clay and for years was the only reason Federer was unable to achieve his career grand slam. Nadal’s clay court dominance is simply historic and it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a healthy, reinvigorated Nadal loses his bid at a 10th title.
Turning to this preview’s betting predictions and French Open Final picks, Nadal is considered to be a 2.5 set favorite. That is a spread that suggests another straight sets victory for the nine-time French Open champ. As much as Wawrinka has been playing great, Nadal has been playing better. When Nadal is playing on his current level on his favorite surface, not even the best player in the world stands a realistic shot at defeating him.