Decima or disruption? Wawrinka stands between Nadal and history
Former champions Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka face off for the 2017 Roland-Garros title, with the Spaniard chasing an unprecedented Grand Slam Decima and the Swiss eyeing his fourth major in as many years.
So here we are: the Decima hunter faces the great disruptor with the 2017 Roland-Garros title on the line. Nine-time champion Rafael Nadal is one win away from an unprecedented 10th men’s singles title in Paris, while 2015 winner Stan Wawrinka is bidding for his fourth major title in as many seasons. The Spaniard has never lost a final on Philippe-Chatrier Court; the Swiss has never lost a Grand Slam final. Something has to give.
It is three years since Nadal won his last Grand Slam title here in Paris in 2014. That same season, Wawrinka claimed his first at the Australian Open, beating Nadal as the Spaniard toiled with a back injury. Since then, the Swiss has conquered Roland-Garros in 2015 and the US Open last season, a late-career surge that has jolted the Big-Four foundations at the top of the game in thrilling fashion.
Nadal has been virtually untouchable since arriving in Paris, and the No.4 seed has arguably never reached the final in such scintillating form. The nine-time champion has dropped just 29 games in his six matches – all straight-sets wins – and has been kept on court for nine hours and 59 minutes in total. Only Dominic Thiem kept him on court for more than two hours in the semi-finals. Pity poor Nikoloz Basilashvili, dispatched for the loss of just one game in the third round, Nadal’s most dominant Grand Slam win.
Those numbers speak volumes – at least, to anybody but Rafa.
“I don't care about the games I lost or not, or sets, these kind of things – the only thing I care is I have been playing very well during the whole event, and I was able to win all the matches,” insists the 31-year-old. “That's the only thing that really matters, no?
“I am very pleased with everything that has happened since the first day that I arrived here. For me, being in the final always going to be a very positive result. Now remains one match against a very tough opponent, and he will be full of confidence.
“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. Then anything can happen, and I hope to be ready for that.”
Three-time major champion Wawrinka has upset the seemingly preordained scheme of things before, having stunned Novak Djokovic in the Roland-Garros final two years ago. The Serb had finally beaten Nadal in Paris at the sixth attempt in the quarter-finals, and remains the second and last man to defeat the Spaniard here. Most pundits had handed him the title long before Sunday but Wawrinka had other ideas, playing the match of his life to leave Djokovic and Chatrier dumbfounded.
Nadal enters the match with history on his side, and not just that 78-2 record at Roland-Garros. The 31-year-old holds a 15-3 head-to-head record over Wawrinka, including 5-1 on clay and 2-1 at the majors. But having seen the Swiss reaching the semi-finals without dropping a set before outgunning and outlasting world No.1 Andy Murray over four and a half hours on Friday, woe betide anyone who might underestimate him again.
“To play Rafa on clay in French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis,” said Wawrinka, the No.3 seed. “He's the best player ever on clay. He's going for his 10th Roland-Garros – it’s something really impressive, something tough.
“It's for sure going to be really difficult. But at 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’re both going to give it our all on the court.
“He's for sure going to be the favorite with what he's done in the past. But also this season already he's playing so well, so I will have to play my best tennis. But I did in the past, so we will see what's going to happen on Sunday.”
So we shall. Decima or disruption, it promises to be something special.