Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will clash in the semi-finals on Friday, the 7th June. They have met 34 times with Nadal having edge 19-15. However, Djokovic has dominated the head to head meetings ever since he appeared in avatar 2.0 in 2011. He comes in on the confidence of victory over Nadal at Monte Carlo in April last. Nadal has warmed up after showing indifferent form in the first week of Roland Garros. Djokovic has dropped just one set in the entire tournament so far. Djokovic is chasing the dream of career Grand Slam by lifting the only Grand Slam that has remained out of his kitty.
Nadal has some sort of match-up issue with Djokovic. After seven consecutive defeats to Djokovic on all surfaces from 2011 up to Australian Open 2012, critics started saying that Djokovic had got into Nadal’s head. However, after defeating Djokovic three times during the clay season last year, Nadal got back some of his confidence. The main cause for Nadal’s discomfiture is that Djokovic has figured out Nadal’s game fully and has the blue print of his own victorious game plan. Nadal, on the other hand, has not been able to find answers to Djokovic game. The long rallies tend to go Djokovic way. It is Nadal who does most of the running from corner to corner and tends to lose the point on his forehand corner. Djokovic will serve to the backhand of Nadal in the deuce court and draw a short response. He will then execute one-two combination in the forehand corner of Nadal. On the return of serve, Djokovic will unleash the return deep giving little time for Nadal to get into proper position to execute a decent shot. Once Djokovic gets into an offensive position, Nadal is pushed back and eventually has to push in a short ball which is killed by Djokovic. Even when Djokovic gets broken, he does not let Nadal consolidate the break by returning every ball aggressively. Nadal does not have a serve that can get him free points. His ground shots are not as potent as those of Djokovic. It is only when he is able to force errors by playing solid defence that he scores points. He has won whenever he is able to distribute balls to both flanks. His traditional forehand cross courts to the backhand of the opponent is a failed strategy against Djokovic whose backhand is more solid than his forehand. If Nadal attacks his forehand as much as his backhand, Djokovic can be put on the back foot. Even in serves, the corner serve to the forehand of Djokovic on the deuce court can let Nadal to execute one-two combination. The difficulty is that his spin does not make that serve go wide, but makes it spin inward facilitating Djokovic to execute his return without going too much out of court. The high kicking wide serve has not been developed by Nadal yet. The wide serve from the ad court does not hurt Djokovic as he has a solid backhand with which he is able to wriggle out without conceding one-two combination chance. Djokovic is able to create gaps in Nadal’s court, but Nadal does it only occasionally. Djokovic stance near the baseline helps him in creating angles, but Nadal’s stance away from the baseline gives plenty of time to Djokovic to get in position. Nadal’s tendency to convert backhand into forehand makes him cede gaps on the forehand side which have time and again been exploited by Djokovic.
Nadal will have the same game plan against Djokovic as he has had against others. He would start with a defensive game retrieving every ball and giving top spin to Djokovic, especially on the backhand side. If he is able to induce errors, he would continue. If he fails, he would start opening up the court by hitting inside out to the forehand side of Djokovic and finish the point on the backhand side. If that too fails, he would come nearer the baseline and engage Djokovic in aggressive exchanges and occasionally advance to the net after hitting aggressive shot to the backhand of Djokovic. This would be a street fight in which Nadal has equally potent weapons and is a bit better at the net.
The outcome of the match will be decided by the few important points. Nadal does well to create break points, but finds it difficult to convert them. He has had difficulties in serving out the matches in the past. Djokovic has gained in stature and confidence since 2011. His hunger for the Roland Garros trophy would be more since career Grand Slam will take him past many greats. It is not easy to predict the outcome, but Djokovic appears to be having an edge.