The annual tennis calendar can be split into 5 pieces revolving around the four Grand Slams. April marks the start of the second phase and it runs until the end of Roland Garros. For a good part of the last decade, this period witnessed ‘routine’ proceedings. A certain Spanish Bull would go haywire, running through anything and everything in its path. But, with the bull subdued temporarily, the French capital has had a chance to look outside off its most decorated champion. The 2016 French Open has witnessed a lot of stories. The one that matters most will be strung together by an unfathomably dominant Serb and an enviably perseverant Brit at the Philippe Chatrier on Sunday evening.
Heading into the summit clash, both these players have walked contrasting paths. Djokovic has been serenely sublime if not his usual brutally dominant self. Nadal’s withdrawal meant that the World No. 1 had a significantly easier route to the finals. He was hardly tested up until Round 4 where Bautista Agut managed to steal the opening set. The Serbian quickly regrouped to see off the Spaniard and moved into the quarters. Berdych and Thiem were hardly an obstacle as Novak strode into his third consecutive Roland Garros final.
Murray started the tournament looking like he wanted to leave Paris at the earliest. He dug in deep to erase a 2 set deficit against Stepanek in the first round only to see himself fall 2 sets to 1 behind against local lad Bourgue in the very next round. Somehow, his grit and experience covered for his starting troubles as he avoided an early exit with back to back 5 setters. Since then, he has found his range whilst dispatching Karlovic, Isner, Gasquet and Wawrinka in the process. He was particularly impressive in his semifinal bout against defending champion, Stan Wawrinka where he mixed caution and aggression with considerable ease.
This will be their 7th meeting in a Grand Slam final with Djokovic enjoying a 4-2 advantage. Nole hasn’t beaten Murray in a Grand Slam final outside Melbourne but is still the favorite to come out shining. Considering the regal drought of weaknesses in Novak’s game, Murray would be well served by exploiting the mental pressure which surrounds his illustrious counterpart. The weight of completing a Career Slam is growing with each passing year and somehow Djokovic always finds a way to stutter at the final step. Nadal used this to this advantage in the 2014 en route to a 14th Grand Slam. Though he got back at the Spaniard with a quarterfinal drubbing in 2015, he took his foot off the gas in the final which helped Wawrinka blast him out of the contest. Murray should look to be aggressive and hit the returns as deep as possible. The first set will hold the key as it will be close to impossible to beat Novak after losing the first set.
Winning the championship will also give Murray a unique edge over Djokovic. If the Brit comes out smiling, he’ll need just the Australian Open to complete a Career Golden Slam (something which only Rafa and Agassi have achieved in the Open Era).For Djokovic, it’s all in the head. Currently, no one can match his skills on the court. If he can find a way to escape the expectations and speculations surrounding him and play out a normal ‘Novak Djokovic’ match, very few would bet against him. Irrespective of which way the fortunes swing, Roland Garros is all set to have a first time champion for the second year running.