Head of Tennis, The CouchExpert
13 September 2011
It is no secret that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the two greatest players of this era and rank at or near the top in the list of all time. It is not difficult to see how Andy Roddick would have won multiple Wimbledon titles, or Andy Murray would have ended the British drought if it were not for these two men. Novak Djokovic himself struggled to compete against the two for a while and has gradually improved himself to the point where he is almost unbeatable against the two — well, everybody. Look at how he monumentally increased his performance at majors this year. First, he beat the defending champion, Federer, in Melbourne. Then he beat Nadal, again the defending champion, at Wimbledon. To top it off he beat both, Federer and Nadal, at New York.
I have mentioned many times that the Miami finals this year was the turning point in the rivalry. Actually, the trivalry. He beat Nadal at his own game — by outgassing him in the final set tie-breaker. Even after beating Nadal four times in the Masters, we still thought that is a different task to take three sets off Nadal in a major final (Nadal had lost just two major finals before this year). He did that at Wimbledon. Today, he completed his dominance over Nadal.
A scoreline of 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1 loos like a routine four set win, completed somewhere around 3 hours. It was anything but. The actual time of this match was north of four hours spanned over 268 points. Most of those 268 points were contested in brutal, physical rallies of the highest magnitude, ones which we have rarely seen. Each point had to be won two, three or four times. One of these games lasted 17 minutes and rarely was there a game not going to deuce. They battled from the baseline, came to the net to hit volleys, were lobbed and had to scramble back to start the point over …. I can go on. The physicality of this four set match was even more than most of the five set epics that Rafa has played in his career.
In the past, Rafa had made a career on outlasting his opponents. After magically winning the tie-breaker with his extreme fighting ability, he had finally turned this match into a physical battle. Djokovic called for the trainer and did not hit a first serve above 100mph thereafter. Everybody thought Rafa would take the match in five. Except Rafa, that is. Because he used his entire fuel tank to bring cramps on his gulten-free opponent. When Djokovic hit the final forehand winner, Nadal did not make an attempt to reach for it. The tireless opponent was also robbed off every ounce of mental energy by then to fight any longer.
What a difference a year makes. What changed? Nadal said, “less mistakes.” Federer said the same. Djokovic called the change in his “attitude.” But one feels it is more than that. Nadal was broken just five times last year but Djokovic broke him 11 times today. The latter has taken the return of the serve to an entirely new level. Everybody, including Djokovic, felt that he was lucky on the return winner down 15-40 to Federer, but he showed today that it was not
mere luck. When Nadal’s signature serves wide from the ad court are blasted for return winners, you know you are witnessing something special. It might not be an overstatement to say that Djokovic did a great job “holding” his return of serve. The most scary statistic: Nadal lost every second point on his first serve. And this was when Nadal was not playing bad himself. He broke Djokovic six times in the first three sets and saved 15 break points. Even though his backhand was no match against Djokovic, he kept himself alive in rallies using great combination of slices, forehands and change of pace. He fought from the deepest hole when Djokovic was serving for the match in the third to extend it for another set.
In the end he kept everything in perspective during the press interview by saying he is closer to finding the solution than he was at Wimbledon. Which he is, considering he kept the scoreline same on his worst surface (hard courts) compared to Djokovic’s worst (grass). Djokovic, on the other hand, is still trying to come back to earth. When asked about his accomplishments this year he rightly said it will take time to realize what he has done. For him, as well as for us. 66-2 and counting …