A massive international storm is picking up speed and in a week’s time it will breach Paris and Roland Garros. This isn’t a terrifying weather report, just an early declaration of what the tennis world should expect at the second Grand Slam of the season: an epic, almost destined, championship between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray.
Based off Djokovic’s continued dominance of the sport, including on red clay, as well as Murray’s success on the surface (even to his admitted dismay), the ATP’s two best players are in good standing and healthy before they attempt to wrangle tennis’ most difficult and unpredictable tournament.
Djokovic, who’s practically doubled up Murray’s points total in the world rankings, carried over his success from last season into 2016 and demolished opponents like a freight train. Djokovic has a 37-3 overall record with five titles, including this year’s Australian Open and most recently the Madrid Masters on clay.
The 28-year-old is also 9-2 on clay this season and perhaps extended his slight mental edge over renowned clay master and world No. 5 Rafael Nadal with straight-set victories on the Italian Open clay and the Indian Wells hard court. He’s now taken seven straight matches over Nadal, including their last three meetings on clay.
Claiming second place in the last two French tournaments, and runner-up in three of the last four, Djokovic is also banging on the door of the one slam that’s eluded his illustrious career. Last year, Djokovic seemed guaranteed to finally capture glory at Roland Garros until Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka played the best tennis of his career and upset the Serb in the final.
But as good as Djokovic’s been, Murray’s been even stronger on clay this season. The Scot has a 12-2 record on the surface and dismantled Djokovic is Rome 6-3 6-3, snapping a four-match losing streak to Djokovic and denying the world’s best player a third straight Italian title.
Since clay season began, Murray’s reached the Monte Carlo semis, the Madrid finals, and sewed up the Rome title, all while knocking back both Nadal and Djokovic.
After dropping Djokovic, the 29-year-old admitted he lacked confidence on clay before this season but he now feels comfortable and maybe that opens the door to his first French title.
"Maybe I didn't believe enough in myself. I always thought clay was my worst and hardest surface for me, but then last year, getting some wins against the best players made me realize a little bit,” Murray told reporters. “I had always been told that clay should really be my best surface, but it took me a long time to gain a little bit of confidence. But also I did make huge improvements in my movement on the surface, as well.
"That has changed my mentality when I go on the court a lot. I don't feel like I'm off-balance anymore and I feel like I can chase most balls down. It's an easy surface for me to move on now."
Assuming tournament officials place Murray and Djokovic on opposite ends of the draw, which is highly plausible, the two have proven no other player can beat them on their best day.
That is, unless nine-time French champion Nadal finds his footing.
The Spaniard’s gone 27-8 and claimed two titles, Monte Carlo and Barcelona’s clay, but he’s 4-4 against top-10 players this season. Nadal’s also experienced uncharacteristic early exits from tournaments this year, namely in Miami, Melbourne, and on the Buenos Aires clay.
Still, Nadal will eventually run into either Murray or Djokovic, or both. And at least one of the three seems destined to claim the French.