French Open: Rain interrupts dream final
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will have to wait until Monday to conclude their fight for the French Open title, after tournament officials called time on a rain-blighted day's play.
The duo will reconvene with the Spaniard ahead in the scoreline, but by no means in control of proceedings. Having fallen two sets behind, Djokovic staged a stunning fightback which saw him win the third set, and break the Nadal serve early in the fourth, before the bleak overhead conditions halted his charge.
Nadal started the far sharper of the two, and an immediate break of the Djokovic serve was a brutal reminder of what stands between him and a first Roland Garros crown. The Serb simply could not counter Nadal, whose astounding court-coverage, and ability to retrieve shots from the most unlikely positions, drew several early errors from the world number one. The signs were ominous, and despite Djokovic reeling off three straight games to restore parity, Nadal's clay-court guile led to an instantaneous reclamation of his break advantage, which he maintained to take the first set 6-4.
The Majorcan's march towards a record-breaking seventh French Open title seemed unstoppable, as more relentless baseline-hitting saw him open up a lead in the second set. Cracks began to appear in Djokovic's usually icy exterior, and the frustration of a cripplingly low first serve percentage saw him receive a warning for racket abuse. Even a brief rain delay at 5-3 did not aid the Serb, as within minutes of the restart Nadal had claimed a twentieth consecutive set of the tournament, and a lead in the third set. The match appeared to be slipping through Djokovic's fingers.
But if the Belgrade native's exploits have demonstrated anything over the past year, it is that he never knows when he is beaten. At 2-0 in the third set, Djokovic instigated a colossal shift in momentum. Eight straight games saw him not only half the deficit, but place himself in pole position to level the match at two sets apiece.
While the rain delay itself may not have changed Djokovic's fortunes, his consummate professionalism in dealing with the weather conditions certainly did. The damp and heavy atmosphere nullified Nadal's usually venomous topspin, and Djokovic began to dominate the baseline exchanges with his flatter, more penetrating groundstrokes. The swift turnaround clearly shook Nadal, whose previously unflappable demeanour was flecked with signs of desperation. He repeatedly berated tournament officials, and responded to the Djokovic challenge by advocating that play be stopped due to unsafe conditions. Djokovic, though, remained unerringly focussed, and was visibly disappointed when the pair were ordered off court at 17:50 BST.
Despite this, Nadal will surely be enduring the more difficult night's sleep. He looked to have put paid to Djokovic's hopes of becoming the first man in 43 years to hold all four major titles, and may well be haunted by memories of this year's Australian Open final, where he squandered a 4-2 advantage in a fifth set he would go on to lose 7-5. In the face of history, it was Djokovic who remained composed, and it would take a brave man to bet against him completing the task he set himself at 2-0 down in the third set. However, these hopes could be crushed very swiftly if Nadal is able to find the form he displayed at the start of the match.
With so much on the line, expect to see some cagey tennis as the players look to complete the fourth consecutive Djokovic-Nadal Grand Slam final. But whatever it lacks in quality, it will more than make up for in drama.