Friday’s French Open men’s semifinals are evenly cut up between the new and previous guard: On one facet, two fast-rising kids attempt to solidify their declare as the future face of the sport; on the different, a pair of no-doubt legends battle it out with historical past on the line. While some tennis observers really feel we’re seeing a Novak Djokovic–Rafael Nadal match a spherical too early as a result of French Open organizers used rankings for the match’s seedings, putting the two on the identical facet of the draw, it could be a bonus for Alexander Zverev or Stefanos Tsitsipas in the closing.
“The good news for [Zverev or Tsitsipas], and this goes back to my issue with the seedings, they’ve only got to beat one of these guys,” ESPN’s Patrick McEnroe stated. “The truth is, they should have to beat two to win one of these [majors]. And in this case, I thought that the French made a huge mistake by not altering the seedings.”
Ahead of the semifinals, we requested our tennis consultants about these star-powered matchups, what’s at stake and who has the finest probability on clay.
What about Zverev’s and Tsitsipas’ video games has shocked you most to date?
Chris Evert: Tsits has impressed me along with his confidence and composure. He’s proven no or little nerves, is hungry and has confidence since he was inside a degree of beating Nadal in Barcelona and serving for the match towards Novak in Rome. Zverev has impressed me along with his energy — his serve and forehand — and his consistency.
Patrick McEnroe: Well, I believe nothing shocked me about Tsitsipas’ sport as a result of he is been rock-solid this whole clay-court season. Obviously, he had an amazing Australian Open too, beating Nadal the means he did in 5, so I believe he is a really pure participant on clay. He’s very athletic, he has lots of completely different pictures, he can come ahead, he is an amazing mover — I believe that is the edge he has towards Zverev in this matchup. He strikes just a little bit higher, defends the court docket just a little bit higher; for my part at the least on this floor he is extra versatile. What I’ve been impressed with perhaps greater than something is simply his demeanor — he is been very constructive, very workmanlike, he is been taking care of his matches fairly simply for the most half. I like his possibilities lots.
Zverev, he is had his points along with his serve, so I believe the largest nice shock for him has been how nicely he is served all through the match. In a means, I believe, being below the radar has helped him as a result of there hasn’t been the identical form of stress on him. He’s seemed actually good. The solely benefit he has towards Tsitsipas is he is obtained just a little bit extra firepower, however I believe the floor that’s most likely the worst for him in this matchup could be a clay court docket — on a sooner onerous court docket I believe he may hit by Tsitsipas just a little bit extra, however I do not suppose he may do this on this sort of floor.
Bill Connelly: With Tsitsipas, not a lot. He’s been excellent on clay for some time — third finest in the world more than likely — so it was straightforward to determine he’d be a favourite to achieve the semis. The proven fact that he swept by each [Daniil] Medvedev and [Pablo] Carreno Busta with out dropping a set was awfully spectacular, although. He’s extremely assured proper now.
Zverev, on the different hand, had been just a little extra inconsistent, successful Madrid however struggling upsets at Munich and Monte Carlo. He has gotten higher in each single match in this match — he went from dropping two units to at least one qualifier in the first spherical and going to 2 tiebreakers with one other in the second, to successful six of his final 9 units 6-2 or worse. This is the finest he is ever performed at Roland Garros.
D’Arcy Maine: Zverev misplaced the first two units of his opening-round match towards Oscar Otte, a qualifier, and seemed like he was nearing a devastatingly early exit from Roland Garros. It wasn’t the comeback victory itself that was a shock; it was the means he did it. He gained 18 of the subsequent 22 video games and closed out the match with a bagel in the fifth set. It was unbelievable resolve by somebody not at all times identified for his on-court psychological maturity — and who has admitted he typically places an excessive amount of stress on himself at majors. He hasn’t dropped a set since and has been firmly in management of his matches and his feelings throughout his run to the semis.
For Tsitsipas, it has been his constant stage of play all through. He got here to Paris having gained titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon, and he merely has not let up. Even towards Daniil Medvedev, the world No. 2 who owned a profession report of 6-1 over him getting into the match, Tsitsipas dominated from the begin. Sure, Medvedev is not identified for his prowess on clay, however even nonetheless, Tsitsipas was by no means flustered towards one of the finest gamers on tour. He misplaced simply 4 factors on serve in the first set and had a solution for the whole lot Medvedev tried. Even throughout the aggressive second set, he saved two set factors and simply gained the tiebreak. His confidence and ease on court docket have elevated with each match.
Simon Cambers: I’ve been impressed by Tsitsipas, specifically, and his potential to remain centered, even in tough conditions like enjoying the evening session with no followers. He stayed calm towards Medvedev, a participant he is struggled with lots, and seems to be very sturdy, his sport good for clay. Zverev confirmed lots of resilience in his matches early on and since has actually began to play nicely. Should be a cracking semifinal.
Who has a greater shot of defeating Nadal or Djokovic in the closing: Zverev or Tsitsipas?
McEnroe: I undoubtedly suppose Tsitsipas has the higher shot, once more as a result of of the issues I discussed. I believe he is simply extra versatile, he can play slice, he can come to the web — he is a lot better at the web than Zverev. He performs just a little bit extra margin on his pictures. I simply suppose he, on this floor, has a a lot better shot towards both one of these guys going into the closing. He’s performed lots of matches on clay this yr, he is gained an enormous match, performed an epic match with Nadal in Barcelona, so I believe even going up towards Nadal, who you’d anticipate to be in the closing, I believe he has a greater probability as a result of of his versatility on the floor. And additionally, he is extraordinarily match, so to have the ability to go up towards both one of these guys in the closing, you’ve got obtained to have the ability to play at a particularly excessive stage for way over an hour and a half or two hours; you have to do it for arguably three and a half, 4 hours to beat these guys.
Evert: Tsitsipas can damage both one as a result of he has perception, virtually beat Novak and Nadal a couple of weeks again on clay and dealt with Medvedev although he was 1-6 in matches towards him.
Connelly: Tsitsipas. Zverev has gained three of the final 4 towards Nadal, and one was even on clay, however I belief Tsitsipas’ consistency extra, and we noticed at the Australian Open that he can go deep right into a fifth set with Nadal and nonetheless play nicely. If they have been to face Djokovic, nicely, neither has performed Djokovic all that nicely of late, however give me Tsitsipas anyway as a result of he grades out higher on clay on common.
Maine: It will probably be very a lot an uphill battle for both of these gamers towards Nadal or Djokovic in a serious closing, however that stated, it must be Tsitsipas.
Yes, Zverev has the invaluable expertise of having performed in a Grand Slam closing, however Tsitsipas comes into the semifinal driving a nine-match successful streak and realizing he can compete with the perfect. He performed a extremely aggressive match towards Nadal in the Barcelona closing in April and beat him in a five-setter at the Australian Open. While clay is a wholly completely different state of affairs in the case of Nadal, Tsitsipas misplaced the first two units throughout their quarterfinal conflict in Melbourne and got here again for the victory. He is aware of he can beat Nadal in a marathon match, and that confidence would possibly make all the distinction.
And, as he compelled a decider towards Djokovic after shedding the first two units of their 2020 semifinal conflict at the French Open and has solely gotten considerably higher on clay since, Tsitsipas must be feeling fairly good about his possibilities in that matchup as nicely.
Cambers: I’d say Tsitsipas. I do know Zverev beat Nadal in Madrid, however the altitude was an enormous issue there, and that defeat would simply make Nadal extra conscious of what he must do. Tsitsipas’ sport stacks up just a little higher towards Nadal, and he beat him from two units down in Australia, which is able to give him lots of perception. Both Tsitsipas and Zverev have crushed Djokovic too, however in a closing, unsure they’d handle it.
How can Djokovic beat Nadal on clay?
Evert: Novak must be affected person, centered and his serve plus one must be on for him to win. I give him a 40% probability — Nadal must be just a little off that day.
McEnroe: Well, what’s this, the 58th assembly? So there’s not that many surprises between these two guys. They know one another inside and out. Obviously, clay simply favors Nadal as a result of of his extreme topspin, significantly off the forehand facet. So he is ready to make use of that to his benefit on this floor, whereas on a sooner court docket, it is extra to Djokovic’s benefit. So for Novak, a pair issues: He’s gotta get on prime of the rally early, and that means I believe getting a excessive proportion of first serves in and serving nicely in order that he can get on prime of the level early. And he is obtained to shut to or inside the baseline much more than Nadal does, as a result of Nadal is way more comfy actually anyplace on clay, however he is actually comfy enjoying defensive tennis. Djokovic has to take offense as typically as he can, which is tough to do on clay, significantly with the spin of Nadal, which is why Nadal’s going for his 14th main.
So I believe that I definitely give the edge to Rafa as a result of of all that, however Novak’s had an amazing clay-court season too, and he performed Rafa very shut in Rome and had an opportunity in the third set to win it. So he is gotta be one hundred pc — mentally, bodily, emotionally. Whereas on a tough court docket or on grass, it is a reverse. This floor simply favors Nadal greater than it does Djokovic. Everything has to go proper for him. Play offensive when he can, take the ball inside the baseline when he can and bodily be able to go to the wall as a result of that is the solely means he is going to have the ability to beat Nadal on this floor in a finest of 5.
Connelly: Start by really serving nicely. When Djokovic has gotten the higher of Nadal on clay, he is been successful 65% or extra of his first-serve factors and 55% or extra of his second-serve factors. Last fall in the French Open closing, these numbers have been 50% and 48%, respectively. Nadal’s personal serve has been a bit inconsistent in his final couple of matches, but when he can create regular break alternatives, that will not matter all that a lot.
Maine: A balanced breakfast, a constructive perspective and lots of prayer? All jokes apart, Djokovic is one of simply two (!) males who’ve crushed Nadal in Paris, so he is aware of it’s attainable. While Nadal was by no means at his finest in 2015, Djokovic pulled off the victory through the use of as a lot selection as attainable and avoiding the longer rallies. Djokovic stated he would look to that match forward of their assembly in the 2020 closing, and whereas that did not work out so nicely, it nonetheless could possibly be worthwhile this time round.
What he cannot do is have a gradual begin like he did in his fourth-round match towards Lorenzo Musetti. It’s one factor towards a 19-year-old enjoying in his first Grand Slam; it is one other towards the King of Clay. While Djokovic stated he loved being two units right down to Musetti, if he have been to fall into that lure with Nadal, it could doubtless find yourself like final yr’s lopsided closing during which Nadal gained in straights.
Cambers: He’s performed it earlier than, so he is aware of it may be performed, which is an effective begin. He must serve nicely, be aggressive and make the most of the identical sport plan that has labored in the previous, assault the Nadal backhand down the line and then use the backhand crosscourt, on the angle, to assault. But he just about has to play completely and cannot have any lapses.
Whose legacy would one other journey to the closing and potential title assist extra: Djokovic’s or Nadal’s?
Evert: It would assist Nadal’s legacy extra: 14 French Opens and cross Roger Federer for a report 21 (in men’s!) Grand Slams.
McEnroe: That’s an amazing query. I do not suppose it is about attending to a closing for them. In a means, this clearly looks like a closing and it must be the closing, which is a component of the motive I stated they need to have seeded Nadal 1 or 2, which I assumed was an enormous mistake, although the French at all times goes with the rankings for their seedings. But I believe that was a mistake; this must be the closing, and if one of these guys may have knocked them off in the semis — be it Tsitsipas or Zverev — extra energy to them. But so far as the query, I believe it is extra necessary for Nadal as a result of he may overtake Federer. So if he will get this title, he is at 21, and until Federer finds the fountain of youth at Wimbledon, he is by no means gonna look again at him. They’ll by no means be tied once more. I do not see Roger successful one other main apart from Wimbledon shifting ahead. So clearly for Novak to get to 19 would clearly be large, but when Nadal lastly passes Federer, that is a a lot larger milestone.
Connelly: If Nadal goes to finish up forward of Djokovic in the all-time main titles race, you work he wants this yet one more. With 18, Djokovic is barely two behind Nadal and Roger Federer, and excluding disqualifications, he is gained 4 of the final 5 hard-court majors.
That stated, Djokovic may grow to be the solely individual to beat Nadal twice at Roland Garros, and he could be the favourite to grow to be the first individual, moreover Nadal, to win a second French Open title since Gustavo Kuerten. That’s definitely legacy stuff proper there.
Cambers: Good query. Djokovic would then have gained every Grand Slam twice, which might be exceptional, however of course, successful Grand Slam No. 21 would put Nadal on prime of the all-time listing and open up that hole once more on Djokovic. I’d say Nadal.
Maine: Nadal has the alternative to win his twenty first main title and surpass Federer for the outright lead for most ever. Before the match obtained underway, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga stated that distinction would cement Nadal’s standing as the GOAT — and it is onerous to argue with the scoreboard. At age 35, his window to win majors is inevitably closing — even when we’d not see proof of that simply but — so the extra he can acquire, particularly on his most popular floor, the higher it’s for his long-term legacy.
Of course, one other French Open title would add to Djokovic’s case for that GOAT title as nicely — particularly as he has only one from Roland Garros — however as the favourite going into Wimbledon, it does not appear fairly as essential for him proper now.