A jack of all serves stands in way of an ace in spades
It has been a breeze for Rafa Nadal so far at this year’s French Open – but a storm is brewing.
Even by the Spaniard’s ridiculously high standards at a tournament in which he has won 78 of his 80 matches since bounding into town like a runaway bull in 2005, the way he has reached his 10th final has been astonishing.
The 31-year-old has not conceded a set and dropped only 29 games in six rounds – two more than Björn Borg’s 1978 record when the Swede destroyed Guillermo Vilas in the final.
However, standing in the way of the Mallorcan becoming the first player in the professional era to win the same Grand Slam title 10 times is a highly destructive Swiss; not 18-time major winner Roger Federer, but the barrel-chested Stan Wawrinka.
Wawrinka was at his belligerent best against world number one Andy Murray in a semifinal classic on Friday, striking 87 winners in a five-set duel that would have graced any final.
Late bloomer Wawrinka (32) has won each of the three Grand Slam finals he has contested and possesses the kind of baseline firepower Nadal has not faced in the past fortnight.
Wawrinka will not be taking a backwards step when play commences on Court Philippe Chatrier today. Should Wawrinka repeat his scintillating 2015 victory over Novak Djokovic, he will become the oldest man to lift The Musketeers’ Trophy since 34-year-old Andrés Gimeno in 1972.
The last Grand Slam clash between the pair came at Melbourne Park in 2014, when Wawrinka beat a hobbling Nadal to claim his first title. It was a breakthrough moment for the Swiss, but, even then, there was a sense that he still felt like an imposter at the top table of men’s tennis.
Three years on and there is little doubt that Wawrinka truly believes he belongs alongside the best and that, when the stakes are highest, he brings it all to court.
POISED Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland
DAZZLING Rafael Nadal of Spain is ranked fourth in the world