FRENCH TOAST, SPANISH SUMMER

So it’s down to the final four at Roland Garros. Many would have picked the top 3- Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to go through to yet another semifinal at a Grand Slam, and on form, you’d have to say that Ferrer deserves to belong to this holy quartet. Having dismissed Murray in four terrific sets, David Ferrer has reached only his first semifinal at Roland Garros. Surprising, considering his prowess on clay, and physical fitness- but draws and seeds have had much to do in his inability to break through in this slam.

Djokovic v/s Federer: In a repeat of last year’s epic semifinal, these two modern greats will do battle once again to win a spot in the final. For both of them, this tournament has always posed more problems than the other slams- not to say they haven’t been successful- because Federer has reached 5 finals over the years, losing all to Nadal. But Djokovic is yet to reach the final of the French Open, and his best chance came last year- when on the back of 43 undefeated matches, he was hot favorite against Federer. Many had expected a brutal Djokovic-Nadal final, especially after Djokovic had tortured Nadal and his knee on his favorite surface for the previous month, beating him at Monte Carlo and Hamburg. Many had expected him to ace the Spaniard at Roland Garros too, but Federer had other ideas. The old Champion played his best match in over two years to eliminate Djokovic- and consign him to his only defeat in the last 5 slams. And now, a year later, they’re back. Djokovic has been struggling relatively, and has played a string of 5-setters, even saving 4 match points against Tsonga in the quarterfinal. He hasn’t looked his best, and often, he doesn’t even look like the number one player in the world. But, as is the hallmark of most champions, he has always come through when it matters, and has done just enough to earn himself a rematch of last year’s high-quality loss.

Federer himself hasn’t looked regal, struggling to find his footing on possibly the slowest clay surface in years. Still, Roger dug himself out of a massive crater against Juan Martin Del Potro, thanks to a bit of good fortune and bad knees. Clearly, Del Potro was the better player, but his body just didn’t allow him to go the distance. Roger should consider himself lucky to be facing Djokovic in the semis, though revenge will definitely be on his mind. Those two match points at the US Open, again in the semis (where the draw perpetually seems to favour Nadal), they’re still haunting the Swiss Master.

Prediction: Djokovic in 4. After a tortured run to the semis, one expects the Champion to wake up and smell the Swiss Cheese. Federer might go down swinging, but even though he has always been the second best player in the world on clay- today, he will go down to third best.

Rafael Nadal v/s David Ferrer: It is funny, though, that Nadal has been the only one complaining about surfaces (Madrid, blue clay), and the folks at Roland Garros have bent over backwards over the years to make sure the surfaces are slow enough to make him absolutely invincible. Wimbledon and US Open have been slowing down their surfaces just enough to spice up things for the Spaniard, and this drastic reduction in speed of all the surfaces is one of the primary reasons Federer hasn’t been able to win a Slam in two years. It may be good for the sport, but total dominance on a surface can get pretty boring too. It’s like the Indian Cricket team playing all their tours at home. Surely, that isn’t a measure of success.

In any case, you must wonder why the other guys are battling it out like demons- going 5 sets almost every match- when these two Spaniards have reached this stage without dropping a single set. The conditions have favored them the most, and they show no signs of easing off. Of course, Nadal has been inhumanly dominant losing barely 30 games in his run to the final four. Few would bet against him to win his 7th title here, and even fewer would expect his countryman and friend Ferrer to beat him on clay- with his last win on this surface coming 8 years ago. Ferrer has looked the second best player on clay this year, without any doubt- but unfortunately, he was always in the same draw as Rafael Nadal.

Prediction: Rafael Nadal in 4 sets. Expect him to finally lose a set against the extremely consistent Ferrer- and this battle is a showdown between the two most physically fit players on tour.

Most Nadal fans will still remember, though, that Djokovic- however ordinary he looks throughout the tournament- is the most dangerous player in the latter stages of a Slam. None of them will have forgotten the crazy Australian Open Final, the one-sided US Open Final, the heartbreaking Wimbledon Final. None of them will have forgotten that look in the eye of the ‘Djoker in the pack’.

To beat Djokovic, you have to reach Match Point. But once you reach Match Point, he’s going to beat you.

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