Wilansky: On clay, the stats are clearly one-sided, but the one thing Djokovic has going for him is his ability to recover. Take, for instance, the 2012 Aussie Open: Djokovic needed five sets and nearly five hours to finally take down Andy Murray in the semifinals, and, two days later, he played and beat Rafa in the final, a match that lasted a Grand Slam finals record 5 hours and 53 minutes. Of course, that was two years ago and on a different surface; nonetheless, that chain of events spoke to Djokovic's capacity not only to physically regroup but to mentally hang in there. We're going to see some rocket groundstrokes Sunday, but this match also will be won (or lost) on attrition. And I am not going to bet against Djokovic if it comes down to that.
Caple: That stamina and resilience, obviously, is thanks to his gluten-free diet. Or perhaps to growing up in Serbia during the Balkan wars, when he endured some tough conditions that he says made him mentally stronger. "From my personal experience, as much as it was devastating, it was also very helpful in terms of my mental strength," he said. "It shaped up my personality incredibly in such way that I didn't have much fear after that." He won't be nervous against Nadal; he won't back down; and he won't wear down. But that still might not be enough the way Rafa is playing this tournament and the way he always plays this tournament.
Wilansky: All true. Nadal has lost just 40 games through six matches, the third fewest he has dropped en route to a major final. Not bad for a guy who was struggling as much as he was. For Djokovic, though, he gets the gravity that will be at stake in the final. Three years ago at Wimbledon, he beat Nadal to win the title he cherished more than any other at the time and snare the top ranking. After that match, Djokovic plucked grass and shoved it into his mouth to "see how it tastes." If he wins the French, I'm wondering whether he will serve himself a dish of dirt. The granular details aside, my gut feeling is that Djokovic has never been hungrier than he is right now.
Caple: Hmmm. What would you rather taste at Roland Garros, the waffles or the clay? Most of us would opt for the waffles, but we're not as fit or driven as Djokovic. He wants to taste victory (plus he wants to avoid gluten). He also has improved against Nadal on clay. Sure, Rafa is 13-4 against Djoker on clay overall, but they are 4-4 on the stuff since Madrid 2011 and Djokovic beat him in their most recent meeting, in Rome this year. Which brings us back to your question: How important is momentum? I say that Rafa will win if the match goes four or fewer sets. But if it goes five, I think Djokovic's hunger will win out. And unlike you and me, he doesn't want waffles.