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Stan Wawrinka vs Rafael Nadal French Open preview: Can Wawrinka stop Nadal winning a tenth French Open title?

Brendan O'Neill 11 Jun 2017
  • Stan Wawrinka faces Rafael Nadal in the final of the 2017 French Open on Sunday
  • Nadal is going for a record tenth title at Roland Garros
  • Wawrinka vs Nadal French Open tennis is live from Roland Garros on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm BST

Rafael Nadal is one match away from a tenth French Open title and only Stan Wawrinka can stop him as they clash in the 2017 Roland Garros final today.

Wawrinka vs Nadal French Open tennis is live from Roland Garros on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm BST. Watch and bet on tennis live at bet365 > live streaming > tennis

Stan Wawrinka has never lost a Grand Slam final and Rafael Nadal has never lost a French Open final – but something’s got to give when the two of them face off on Sunday for the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

The numbers are undoubtedly on Nadal’s side. Wawrinka is, yes, unbeaten in Grand Slam finals, winning all three that he’s played – beating an ailing Nadal at the Australian Open in 2014, and Novak Djokovic at the French Open in 2015 and the US Open in 2016. But Nadal’s unbeaten record in French Open finals has survived nine tests – most of them against Roger Federer, others against Mariano Puerta, David Ferrer, Robin Soderling and Djokovic again.

To win ten French Open titles would be a staggering achievement that will have future generations wondering how anyone could have been that good on clay (or everybody else so bad, alternatively). And yet it’s seemed all but inevitable from well before the start of the 2017 French Open. The seeds were sown in Nadal’s excellent first quarter of the season, overshadowed only by Federer’s, which saw him finish runner-up at the Australian Open, in Acapulco and Miami, suggesting that he was back to something like his best after years of struggling with injuries. They took root in earnest during the clay-court season in which Nadal, predictably, dominated, winning tenth titles at the Monte-Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open and claiming the Madrid Masters title to boot. And with each one-sided ‘contest’ Nadal has cruised through at Roland Garros, dropping just 23 games on his way to the final – the fewest games he has ever conceded on his way to the final, beating his record in 2008 when he bagelled Roger Federer in the decider – he’s seemed to be tightening his grip on the trophy. Djokovic went out before a projected semifinal meeting and was never going to challenge him anyway; quarterfinalist Pablo Carreno Busta retired after ten games due to injury; semifinal opponent Dominic Thiem, the only man to have beaten Nadal on clay this year, was increasingly woeful in a 3-6, 4-6, 0-6 defeat.

Trying to figure out where the boundary between Nadal’s magnificence and his opponents’ shortcomings lies is a fairly futile exercise. But if you had asked most people to identify one player in the draw before the tournament began who was capable of beating him at the French Open, I think most people would have pointed at the man who faces him across the net on Sunday – Stan Wawrinka.

This is the man, after all, who has elevated himself mid-career from an underachiever to an arguable member of the very top echelons, with the same number of Grand Slam titles as Andy Murray (although much, much fewer accomplishments elsewhere) – and the man who spectacularly derailed Djokovic’s career Slam quest in 2015 with a devastating display of power clay-court tennis. Wawrinka didn’t come in with any particular form – in fact, he’d had a poor clay-court season and only just found something at the very last minute by taking a wildcard to defend his Geneva Open title – but form has always been somewhat irrelevant to the Swiss star when it comes to Grand Slams.

Stan Wawrinka (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
In many ways, Wawrinka’s progress through the French Open draw has been a textbook example of playing into perfect form at the right moment. He subdued potentially tricky opponents – Alexandr Dolgopolov, Fabio Fognini – in straight sets in the first week and was focused enough not to spare an extra ounce of energy beating Gael Monfils and Marin Cilic. Against Andy Murray, he struggled to capitalize on leads at various points of the match – he certainly shouldn’t have lost the first set – but  raised his level in response to each setback and now has the confidence of having survived an extremely hard-fought, competitive match against top-level opposition in five sets. Murray himself pointed out after the match that there aren’t a lot of substitutes for going through that in terms of knowing you’re going to be able to find that intensity you need if and when the match gets tough.

Could Nadal’s lack of tough matches coming through the draw actually hurt him in the final? It’s not impossible, but again, that really depends on where you draw the boundary between his excellence and his opponents not performing their best. 

Wawrinka certainly has little doubt.

‘When you play Rafa in the French Open, you're never the favourite,’ he said. ‘If you lose, it's almost normal. So I'm going to look for solutions, and I'll have to be physically and mentally present and be strong. When I'm on a court, I always try to put myself in the shoes of the outsider. I don't consider that I will definitely win because I’m no. 3 seed. I know the pain when you lose. It can be very painful. So the moments when things go well, you really have to enjoy them fully. 
 ‘This is going to be my fourth final in a Grand Slam tournament, and that is not normal. It's exceptional, and it will always be exceptional.’

Nadal has a 15-3 lead in the head-to-head against Wawrinka and won their last two matches, at the World Tour Finals in 2015 and on the clay of the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2016, in straight sets. Of the three victories Wawrinka has scored against Nadal, one of them was the Australian Open when Nadal was injured and the other two – including the only one on clay – came in 2015, an annus horribilis for Nadal in which he didn’t win a single Masters 1000 Series title or Grand Slam. Could Wawrinka beat the best there’s ever been on this surface on the court he’s made his own over the years? He has just about the best chance of any man in tennis of doing so in Sunday’s French Open final. But that’s still a pretty small chance. 

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Stan Wawrinka vs Rafael Nadal French Open preview: Can Wawrinka stop Nadal winning a tenth French Open title?

Stan Wawrinka might be the player with the best chance of stopping Rafael Nadal from winning a tenth Roland Garros title – can he rise to the occasion in the final of the 2017 French Open?

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