Well, that was a pretty good start to the clay season, wasn’t it? Novak Djokovic gave Clay King Rafael Nadal all he could handle today in the final of the Monte Carlo Rolex Tennis Masters, but in the end it was Nadal too good winning 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 for a record fifth consecutive title in Monaco.
I thought going into the match that Djokovic had a shot a set in this one, and credit to him he played about as well as he’s played in a very long time, and he took it. Novak was firing winners, playing aggressive, attacking tennis and executing on all levels in that second set and into the third. Problem is, to beat Rafa you need to maintain that standard for at least two sets because as Nadal showed again, there is just no one mentally tougher right now than the Spaniard. And on clay he’s doubly tough.
The set win for Djokovic snapped a 31-set winning streak Nadal enjoyed in Monte Carlo and will no doubt give the Serb heaps of confidence going forward.
As I said with Andy Murray, I think today Novak also laid down some good groundwork with what’s to come. For nearly an hour he was doing a lot of damage and scoring a lot of points against Rafa by taking it to Nadal. And to me that’s the way to beat Rafa on clay: Attack, attack, attack.
And despite all the tennis he’s played the last few days, I thought physically Novak held up daily well though faded a bit at the end, but I think those long, grueling early games in the third set did more damage mentally than bodily. Hopefully for him he knows that with his all-court power game he can really hurt Nadal on the clay. Now he just needs to find the belief that he can maintain it. Easier said than done! Regardless, it’s good to see Novak playing top-level tennis again.
For Rafa, I’m still of the mindset he’s going to lose a few more sets this clay campaign then in the past, maybe even drop a match. He’s still going through some bad patches here and there which I’m sure Uncle Toni will try to hammer out over the next month. But you saw just how tough it is to win one set against Rafa, imagine winning two or three!
While Novak and Murray now get a break, no rest for Nadal who’s off to Barcelona this week, then to Rome the week after before a week off and then Madrid. It’s a beast of a schedule, let’s see just how well Rafa Beast manages and sticks to it.
Overall, I think Monte Carlo’s is a great indicator of what’s to come, and from what I’ve seen this week right now in my French Open Final Four I have Nadal, Djokovic, Murray and… Davydenko. Still early, lots can change and I’ll keep an eye on Juan Martin Del Potro, Roger Federer and David Nalbandian for signs of life. But right now, it’s Vamos.
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Djokovic Withdraws From Monte Carlo