Novak Djokovic is the perfect person in the perfect place to make the perfect apology – for his own sake.
Well, we’ve all heard this before, haven’t we?
Novak Djokovic up against Rafael Nadal in a grand slam final.
For the ninth time in just over a decade two of the greatest gladiators in modern tennis will go head to head with history on the line for both.
In one corner you have Djokovic, who by winning an 18th major title would not only draw to within one of Nadal’s haul (19) but also become the first man in the open era to win each of the four majors twice.
In the other you have Nadal, who has history in his sights in more ways than one: a record-equalling 20th major men’s singles title, 13 French Open titles and 100 match victories at the tournament he has dominated ever since debuting as an 18-year-old in 2005.
After deciding to skip the US Open due to health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spaniard has been at his typically ruthless best at Roland Garros, not dropping a set en route to his 13th French Open final.
Of the 18 sets he has won to get here in only six of them has he lost three games or fewer, and another two required a tiebreak, including in his quarter-final against Jannik Sinner and the semi-final against Diego Schwartzman.
The semi-final against Schwartzman had loomed as a potentially tricky match-up for Nadal, who lost the pair’s most recent meeting in Rome just last month, but bounced back where and when it mattered the most.
In other matches he has shown up the up-and-comers in brutal fashion, including lopsided defeats of Sebastian Korda, the son of 1992 French Open runner-up Petr, in the fourth round, and reigning next-generation champion Sinner in the quarter-finals.
Now only 33-year-old Novak Djokovic stands in his way of creating more history at Roland Garros.
The Djoker has placed his US Open controversy well behind him, rebounding to win the Rome Masters, which proved a major boost to his chances of winning the French Open for a second time.
At Roland Garros the Serb failed to drop a set in his first four matches, leading into a rematch against Pablo Carreno Busta, against whom he copped a default for unintentionally injuring a lineswoman at the US Open last month, in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic dropped the first set but bounced back to win in four. He then survived a marathon five-set semi-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas, where he wasted a match point in the third set that would’ve given him a straight-sets victory.
Instead Djokovic dropped the third and fourth sets before dominating the final set, winning it 6-1 to advance to his fifth French Open final and third against Rafael Nadal.
It is also the first time the Serb has advanced to the final at the French Open since winning the title in 2016, and as such he will have the chance to become the first man in the open era to complete a double career grand slam, something not even Nadal or Roger Federer has achieved.
He will also have somewhat of a psychological edge going into the final – he is one of only two men – the other being Robin Soderling – to defeat the Spaniard at the French Open and the only one to do it in straight sets.
He is also the only man to hand Nadal a straight-sets defeat in a major final, doing so at last year’s Australian Open final, which seems like a lifetime ago considering the events that have rocked the globe in the last ten months.
But as has been the case since 2005, facing Nadal at the French Open, let alone on the clay courts, has become world sport’s greatest challenge, and Novak Djokovic will need to draw on all his powers if he is to hand the Spaniard just his third defeat at the tournament.
And while Nadal would create more history at Roland Garros by winning, a loss would see him suffer his first defeat in a French Open final and see him join the likes of Federer and Serena Williams in completing the ‘dinner set’ – that is, a win and a loss in the final at each grand slam.
It’s all on the line when two of the greatest players of modern tennis face off in the final men’s grand slam championship match for 2020 on Monday morning (AEDT). Now it’s time to crunch the all-important numbers below.
Sunday, 11 October, 12:00am AEDT on Court Philippe Chatrier
Head to head
All matches: Djokovic 29-26
All finals: Djokovic 15-11
At the grand slams: Nadal 9-6
At the French Open: Nadal 6-1
Grand slam finals: Tied, 4-all
French Open finals: Nadal 2-0
Last meeting: Djokovic won 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), team final, 2020 ATP Cup
Last meeting at a grand slam: Djokovic won 6-3, 6-2, 6-3, final, 2019 Australian Open
Last meeting at the French Open: Djokovic won 7-5, 6-3, 6-1, quarter-finals, 2015
Last meeting in a French Open final: Nadal won 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4, 2014.
Novak Djokovic’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Mikael Ymer (SWE) 6-0, 6-2, 6-3
Round 2: defeated Ricardis Berankis (LTU) 6-1, 6-2, 6-2
Round 3: defeated Daniel Elahi Galan (COL) 6-0, 6-3, 6-2
Round 4: defeated Karen Khachanov  (RUS) 6-4, 6-3, 6-3
Quarter-final: defeated Pablo Carreno Busta  (ESP) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Semi-final: defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas  (GRE) 6-3, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-1
Rafael Nadal’s road to the final
Round 1: defeated Egor Gerasimov (BLR) 6-4, 6-4, 6-2
Round 2: defeated Mackenzie McDonald (USA) 6-1, 6-0, 6-3
Round 3: defeated Stefano Travaglia (ITA) 6-1, 6-4, 6-0
Round 4: defeated Sebastian Korda (USA) 6-1, 6-1, 6-2
Quarter-final: defeated Jannik Sinner (ITA) 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-1
Semi-final: defeated Diego Schwartzman  (ARG) 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (7-0)
The stats that matter
This is Novak Djokovic’s 27th grand slam final and fifth at the French Open, while this is Rafael Nadal’s 28th grand slam final and 13th at the French Open.
This will be the ninth grand slam final between the pair – both have four wins apiece – and their 16th meeting at a major (Nadal leads 9-6).
Djokovic is aiming for his 18th grand slam title but only his second at the French Open, while Nadal is aiming for a record-equalling 20th grand slam title, which would see him equal the record held by Roger Federer, and a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros.
A win in the championship match would also give Nadal his 100th match victory at Roland Garros and his 999th career match victory.
Conversely, a win by Djokovic would see him complete a double career grand slam and see Rafael Nadal lose a French Open final for the first time, thus seeing him complete the ‘dinner set’ – that is, winning and losing in a final at all four majors.
Djokovic is aiming to win the Australian and French opens in the same year for the second time, after 2016.
Djokovic is the only man to defeat Nadal in straight sets at the French Open and in a major final (at last year’s Australian Open).
Nadal is aiming to win the tournament without dropping a set for the fourth time – after 2008, 2010 and 2017, though in the latter year he only completed 19 sets as Pablo Carreno Busta retired in the second set of their quarter-final.
Rafael Nadal in four sets.