Rafael Nadal won Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He played well enough to lose in 2 close sets to Andy Murray in the semifinal round of Madrid. Rafa beat Murray at Monte Carlo in 3 sets so those two are playing close to even tennis on clay as Roland Garros approaches. Rafa is the best clay court champion of all-time.
Novak Djokovic won Madrid after having a stumble at Monte Carlo. Novak approaches Roland Garros 2016 with as much momentum as he has ever had as a player. He also lacks a Roland Garros title. A career Grand Slam is on the line as is Novak being the reigning champion at all 4 major titles. So Novak is playing at an unprecedented level, but the opportunities/pressure in front of him are as big as ever as well.
Does Rafa Make Nole’s Life Easier or Harder?
If Rafa is back to his 2005-2014 form on clay or if he is returning to that form, he becomes a huge obstacle for Novak’s quest to complete a historic accomplishment. Novak is in an odd spot. If he wins tomorrow, Rafa will be less likely to be a top 4 seed in Paris. That could make Novak’s path to a Roland Garros title harder. If Rafa beats Novak tomorrow, Rafa might be close to being revitalized heading into Paris.
Novak should win this match so long as he moves well, returns well, and plays loose. There is a lot to balance here for Novak. The mental side of this is huge. I don’t see any benefit to Novak if Rafa wins this match other than maybe a different draw in Paris. Novak has a mental edge on everyone. Novak has worked hard to attain a mental edge on the field. He is not going to let go of that without a fight. I think that alone pushes Novak toward a solid win tomorrow.