Novak Djokovic faces a ‘herculean task’ at the French Open 2020 finals on Sunday. That statement holds true in only one situation in the tennis world – when one faces Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros. However, if there is one player who can topple Nadal on the Parisian clay, it is Djokovic.
Djokovic is the only man in tennis to have beaten Nadal seven times on his favorite surface. But facing a confident Nadal who knows exactly where his game is at will need Djokovic to be at his best in all departments.
Given the start time of the final, the conditions will not trouble Nadal. The court conditions in Paris have traditionally favored Nadal. The Roland Garros clay coupled with the altitude and the bounce on Court Philippe-Chatrier fit right into Nadal’s style of play.
The forehand and backhand are both defensive strengths for Nadal on clay. He can control the game on both wings. Djokovic will need to consistently attack Nadal and push him wide off the court. Doing so, he needs to force the Spaniard to make difficult angles. Djokovic also has to conquer the heavy topspin on Nadal’s shots.
Diego Schwartzman dropped the ball short on a few occasions against Nadal but forced Nadal quite wide off the court with the angle created on his shots. Nadal looked uncomfortable on a few of those occasions.
One of the biggest factors for Djokovic on Sunday will be his serve. He needs to make a high percentage of first serves against Nadal. At the same time, he has to make sure he does not give Nadal the opportunity to get into an attacking position on the return of serve.
The biggest tool in Djokovic’s arsenal is his return of serve. Nadal knows that he needs to make a high percentage of first serves and cannot afford to be defensive in his approach after the serve. Although, Djokovic’s deep returns of serve on both backhand and forehand can do that to Nadal.
The challenge for Djokovic will also be winning a higher number of points on Nadal’s second serve. Nadal has shown great effectiveness behind his second serve all tournament. Djokovic will need to attack Nadal’s second serve. At the same time, he must keep moving ahead during the rally rather than playing the baseline game on such rallies.
The drop shot is one of Djokovic’s most useful shots these days. He used it extensively in his six previous matches. Against Nadal, it will be a lot more difficult to find instant success with the shot, but it could still be very useful. It puts Nadal off his baseline game and forces him to do a lot more running.
Against Nadal on clay, it is much easier said than done to go in with a strategy which is a recipe for success over five sets. But the Serbian superstar needs all these things to work for him if he is to dethrone Nadal at Roland Garros.