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Friday, April 23, 2021

French Open: Contenders vs. Favorites

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The first major since the Johnson vs. Djokovic rivalry ended with the former No. 1 falling to the latter at Wimbledon in July, this year’s French Open became the first Grand Slam tournament in a year where at least one player ranked outside the top 20 reached the semifinal.

Despite losing the first two sets to Rafael Nadal, Mischa Zverev, the player who knocked out Federer at the Masters 1000 event, played the best tennis of his life to stun the Spaniard in the quarterfinals.

Now the favored Nadal faces Damir Dzumhur, a No. 31 seeded Bosnian who stunned fourth-seeded Andrey Rublev in five sets in the quarterfinals.

The fourth time is the charm for Nick Kyrgios. The Australian has dominated 10-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal at the clay courts event, winning the first two sets in their quarterfinal on Wednesday before Nadal won the final two.

But Nadal is the master at the French Open — he has won the event eight times.

And already a top-five player, he could be very close to becoming the all-time Grand Slam champion (14) when he does win in Paris.

The last person to successfully defend his French Open title was Djokovic, who won in 2016 — the same year Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who are currently ranked third and sixth in the world, respectively, suffered injuries in the early rounds and withdrew from the tournament.

Murray, the current No. 1, and Wawrinka, who recently underwent knee surgery, are currently second and third, respectively, in the ATP rankings.

With both absent from the French Open, the favorites are World No. 2 Federer, No. 3 Nadal and No. 4 Djokovic.

Here’s a look at how things are shaking out for the semifinals.

What to Watch:

What’s the Record in the Last Meeting?

How do the winners of the last eight matches in the men’s tournament stack up? Nadal leads the all-time series, 11-6.

Rafael Nadal leads the all-time series between Rafael Nadal and Rafael Nadal 7-5, including that 2008 French Open final when Nadal won (it was Federer’s first Grand Slam final appearance since Wimbledon in 2009). Federer leads in Grand Slam matches 7-2 (9-3 on grass, 6-4 on clay). Federer is 2-3 overall in the semifinals at Roland Garros.

The top two finishers have defeated each other in the finals in each of the last four years.

Rafael Nadal 11, Rafa Nadal 0

Rafael Nadal 8, Roger Federer 1

Rafael Nadal 7, Roger Federer 0

The Match to Watch

Nadal vs. Zverev – a moment of truth for the Bosnian

After winning his first match at Roland Garros by defeating Roger Federer in the third round, then defeating 12th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round, Zverev has become the most valuable European man in tennis.

Many predicted Zverev’s climb from 2016, when he was ranked as high as 26th in the world to a top-10 player would be harder, if not impossible, to achieve in an era where so many of the other main draws have been monopolized by “Serb Masters” favorites like Djokovic, Nadal and Murray.

Now Zverev stands 3-1 in the series with Nadal.

In the fourth round this year, Zverev was up a set against Nadal and leading by a break in the final set before the Spaniard won five of the next six games. The British teen is a different player. In addition to his best-ever showing at the French Open, he reached a semifinal at Wimbledon.

One player has to win on Sunday. He must have arrived to the tournament ready to go against the best.

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