by: Tom Cochrane

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet in an historic French Open final tomorrow, after the top two seeds in the men’s draw had surprisingly straightforward semi-final victories.

Today, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani square off for the French Open women’s singles championship, with each playing looking to capture their first title at Roland Garros.

Day 13 Recap

Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer were on court first on men’s semi-finals day, with the sixth-seeded Ferrer looking to hand Nadal just his second loss in 52 matches at Roland Garros. Early on, the signs were promising for Ferrer, as he held his opening two service games with ease and pushed Nadal on the second seed’s opening pair of service games, earning break points in the fourth game of the match.

Ferrer’s sharp start seemed to catapult Nadal into action, as the man from Mallorca not only saved the break points on his serve, but went on a spectacular run, claiming 16 points in a row as he collected the opening set, 6-2. A brilliant frontrunner, Nadal had jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second set when rain delayed play for the best part of an hour. That gave Ferrer the opportunity to reassess his game plan, but it was to no avail, as the diminutive Ferrer was only able to claim two more games for the entire match, Nadal claiming an emphatic 6-2 6-2 6-1 victory.

For Ferrer, it was simply a case of not being aggressive enough, as he was unable to get Nadal on the defensive enough times during rallies from the back of the court. For Nadal, the performance was another stunner in a near-perfect tournament to date, and a record-breaking seventh French Open crown is now just one win away.

But Nadal will need to overcome his recent Grand Slam hoodoo against Novak Djokovic if he is to claim the eleventh major of his career. Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in straight sets in windy conditions, in a match where Federer’s inconsistency cost him dearly.

In both of the opening two sets, Federer mixed rare brilliance with ugly mediocrity, the Swiss star going up an early break in the first set before surrendering it by conceding his serve twice. The second set was a similar story, with Federer breaking his opponent three times but unable to hold on to his own serve, as Djokovic eventually prevailed, 7-5. A break to the top seed midway through the third set was all the Serb needed to seal the win, Djokovic claiming victory by way of a 6-4 7-5 6-3 scoreline.

It was an astute performance from Djokovic who, after being pushed to 5 sets in his last two matches, will be grateful for the shorter match. Djokovic kept his unforced errors to a minimum and stayed composed as Federer’s form fluctuated wildly throughout the course of the match. The Serb now has a chance to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all 4 majors at the same time.

For Federer, this will be a disappointing loss to digest. Clearly the Swiss star had a strategy to be aggressive during the match, but 35 unforced errors across the first two sets (and 46 in total for the match), along with a first serve percentage for the match of just fifty-five percent, proved to be the key factors in Federer’s downfall.

Match of the Day – Day 14

Maria Sharapova vs. Sara Errani

Playing each other for the first time, Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani are both playing in their maiden French Open final. For Sharapova, it’s an opportunity to complete a career Grand Slam and also another chance to win her first major since returning to the WTA Tour from a serious shoulder injury. The Russian wasn’t able to beat Petra Kvitova in last year’s Wimbledon final, and was humbled by Victoria Azarenka in this year’s Australian Open final, so I think she will be incredibly determined to make amends for those losses in this final.

For Errani, it’s her first ever Grand Slam singles final and the chance to complete a marvellous clay-court season and fortnight at Roland Garros. Errani won the women’s doubles title with Roberta Vinci yesterday, and can become the first women in over a decade to do the double in Paris by claiming the singles title today.

Any thoughts that Errani might be nervous appearing in her debut Grand Slam singles final seem to be unwarranted, given that the Italian has won 3 tournament finals already this year, and was actually the more relaxed player in her semi-final against the vastly more experienced Sam Stosur.

Errani’s run to the final has come on the back of great court movement and canny anticipation, high levels of consistency from the back of the court, and an incredible will to win. Sharapova will look to dictate play against the petite Italian, and her hard and flat groundstrokes will give Errani less time to chase balls back compared with the heavy top-spin shots employed by other players.

As always, Sharapova’s serve will be a big factor – the Russian will need to get a high percentage of first serves into play and also limit her double fault count, which can get high at times. How windy it is during the final will play a part in this regard, with Court Philippe Chatrier prone to swirling, gusting winds.

Sharapova will need to be patient in this match, and let her big-match experience and composure come to the fore. Errani will no doubt get plenty of balls back into play and force the second seed to win some points multiple times. But if the Russian can be accepting of that fact, stay aggressive and keep her unforced errors to a minimum (something Stosur was unable to do against Errani) then I think Sharapova will have too much class and firepower for Errani. Sharapova in 2.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the tennis and I’ll be back with another serve tomorrow.


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