Roland Garros Final Preview: Stan vs. Rafa
Another gripping fortnight on the terre battue of Roland Garros is nearly in the books, with two former titlists set to square off for the Coupe des Mousquetaires. There have been no shortage of storylines throughout the first 14 days of the tournament and the same can be said for Sunday's championship between third seed Stan Wawrinka and fourth seed Rafael Nadal.
Nadal has been careening towards a date with destiny, marching into a 10th final in the French capital without dropping a set. As ruthless as the Spaniard had been in streaking to the titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid, he has been arguably even more impressive at Roland Garros, relinquishing just 29 games - an average of just five games lost in six matches. It is the second-fewest number of games dropped in reaching a Grand Slam final in the Open Era, behind only Bjorn Borg's run to the 1978 Roland Garros final.
Nadal secured his place in his 22nd major final (14-7 record) with a convincing 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 victory over an in-form Dominic Thiem in Friday's semi-finals. Now on the precipice of a historic, extraordinary achievement, the King of Clay is just one win from etching his name in the Grand Slam history books. He is bidding to not only become the first player in the Open Era to lift 10 trophies at a single tournament, but also become the oldest in history to claim his 15th major title. The Manacor native would pass Pete Sampras for solo second on the all-time list.
With his quest to complete 'La Decima' hanging in the balance, Nadal will face a formidable and familiar opponent in Sunday's final. Two of the game's deadliest, most feared weapons will be on display as Nadal's heavy topspin forehand clashes with Wawrinka's majestic, mammoth backhand. Both competitors will look to generate great depth on their preferred wings, taking time away from their opponent and opening the court for finishing blows. Firepower meets firepower on Court Philippe Chatrier, with No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings on the line.
Fewest Games Dropped In Winning Major Title
||32||1978 Roland Garros
||38||1980 Roland Garros
||41||2008 Roland Garros
"For me, being in the final is always a very positive result," said Nadal. "Now remains one match against a very tough opponent, so he will be full of confidence for Sunday. And he's a very dangerous player because he can hit the ball very hard. I need to play aggressive, I need to play long, I need to try to not let him play from easy positions. If not, I'm going to be in big trouble.
"It's true that when he hits hard, he hits really hard. Stopping him can be difficult... I will have to do everything I can to keep him from playing aggressively. If I can play long balls, if I can hit hard, if I can do that, I think I will be able to control him. I know he's dangerous when he plays aggressively, so I need to limit his possibilities."
Nadal leads the FedEx ATP Head2Head 15-3, but Wawrinka has history on his side as well. The 2015 champion will look to extend his perfect mark in Grand Slam finals, entering his second Roland Garros title match with a 3-0 record.
"To play Rafa on clay in the final of the French Open is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis," said Wawrinka. "He's the best player ever on clay. He's going for his 10th Roland Garros, so it's something really impressive, something tough."
All-Time Grand Slam Titles List
One of the biggest clutch performers in today's game, the Swiss is also no stranger to denying dates with destiny. In the 2014 Australian Open final, he stopped Nadal's quest to become the first player in the Open Era to win all four majors twice. One year later, he momentarily halted Novak Djokovic's bid to complete the career Grand Slam at Roland Garros with a near-flawless performance in the final.
The 32-year-old Swiss is looking to write his name in the history books as well, seeking to join elite company as just the third player to win three or more Grand Slam titles after turning 30. Only Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall have done so. A win would also secure him a career-high No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, becoming the oldest to make his Top 2 debut in more than 40 years.
Wawrinka enters the final after surviving a grueling five-set battle against top seed Andy Murray on Friday. He notched his fourth win over a World No. 1 after nearly five hours, rallying from two-sets-to-one down to extend his win streak to 10 straight. The champion on home soil in Geneva two weeks ago, the Lausanne native is vying for his fifth straight win in a clay-court final.
Most Grand Slam Titles At 30 & Over (Open Era)
|Player||Titles Won At 30 & Over
||4||1968, 1970, 1971, 1972
"It's going to be really difficult," Wawrinka added. "But again, in the end of the day, it's the final. The pressure is on both players. No one goes on the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title and we are both going to give it our all on the court.
"He's for sure going to be the favourite with what he's done in the past, but also this season already he's playing so well. So I will have for sure to play my best tennis. But again, I did that in the past, so we will see what's going to happen on Sunday."