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Nadal faces Wawrinka obstacle in quest for 10th Roland Garros crown.
Stanimal v El Matador de Manacor could be a showdown from the pages of a children’s comic book. But nicknames aside, third seed Stan Wawrinka will play fourth seed Rafael Nadal on Sunday for the 2017 French Open men’s singles title.
The two have faced each other 18 times since 2007. Nadal has won 15 of the encounters, six of which have been on clay.
But the Stan Wawrinka that Nadal used to dispatch with such regularity is long gone. The beast that has emerged is capable of beating the “big four” of Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal himself.
Wawrinka made the breakthrough most famously when he took out defending champion Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2014 in the semi-final and beat Nadal for the first time in the final in four sets.
Wawrinka’s second Grand Slam title came at Djokovic’s expense at Roland Garros in 2015 and his third – again beating Djokovic – at the US Open in September 2016.
The 32-year-old Swiss has the weapons. But will he have the physical force to deploy them? Two days ago Wawrinka came through a five set semi-final against top seed Murray after four hours and 34 minutes of sapping combat. The same afternoon, Nadal dismissed sixth seed Dominic Thiem in straight sets in just over two hours.
Indeed Nadal has not dropped a set and lost only 29 games in his saunter to his 10th final at Roland Garros. “I don't care about the games I lost or not, or sets or these kind of things,” said the 31-year-old Spaniard. “Only thing I care about is I have been playing very well during the whole event and I was able to win all the matches. That's
the only thing that really matters.”
Earlier in the clay court season, Nadal won the Monte Carlo Masters for the 10th time and followed it up by claiming the Barcelona Open for the 10th time. He hoisted that trophy on the stadium court named in his honour.
Ten up at Roland Garros in 13 visits would be an astounding achievement in the modern game. It would also give him his 15th Grand Slam title. "I think to play Rafa in the final at the French Open in a final is probably the biggest challenge you can have in tennis,” said Wawrinka on the eve of the contest.
“He's the best player ever on clay. It's for sure going to be really difficult. But
it's the final and the pressure is on both players. No one is going onto the court thinking he has no pressure. We both want to win the title and we are both
going to give it our all.” A battle royal is in the offing. It should be marvellous.