Roger who? With the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry showing signs of fizzling, the new, and arguably better, rivalry in tennis is Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and it’s sizzling! The top two players in the sport met again this afternoon with the Miami Masters title on the line and the match didn’t disappoint.
Like their previous meeting won by Djokovic at Indian Wells, this too went the this distance only this time to a final set breaker. After body blow after body blow, it was Djokovic the last man standing with an epic 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) win for his second Miami championship and stay perfect in 2011.
“It’s incredible,” a winded Djokovic said immediately afterward on CBS. “To win against the No. 1 player of the World in a tiebreak in the third set is just incredible.”
The 3-hour, 21-minute victory lifts Djokovic’s win streak to 26 and keeps him unbeaten on the season at 24-0.
And full credit to Djokovic, who after going down early, once again overcame the odds to turn Nadal away.
What a transformation mentally for Djokovic who not long ago wasn’t physically or mentally equipped for comebacks. This was their 25th meeting – maybe their best behind only that Madrid match – with Nadal still leading 16-9, but Djokovic widens his hardcourt lead over the Spaniard to 9-5.
As for the match, I didn’t think either guy served particularly well which in the end hurt Nadal more because he had to work that much harder for free points. But there were both using all of the court and all of their power blasting ground strokes at each other.
Nadal ran out early in the match behind two breaks of the Djokovic serve. But at the close of the first set you could sense the Serb was getting into the match. And he did.
Djokovic wouldn’t get broken again.
He went up an early break in the second set eventually winning 6-3.
There were no breaks (nor break chances) in the third set as both players went toe-to-toe. Djokovic faced more pressure having to serve from behind, but each time, especially at 4-5 and 5-6, he answered the challenge.
Nadal roared out in the breaker winning two of the first three points, and he looked the aggressor. But after a lengthy fifth point (I think it was the fifth), won by Djokovic, a bent-over Nadal actually appeared gassed and winded.
Djokovic raised his level winning five straight points from 2-1 down to go up 6-2. And the title was his when Nadal was unable to retrieve another nasty forehand angle winner.
“I didn’t know how it was going to turn out,” Djokovic said. “It was such a close match really from the start. He was a better player in the first set. I managed to find my rhythm at the end of the first set and then throughout the whole second and third sets I played quite well especially on my service games. I think this was one of the best matches I’ve played in a while.”
Djokovic hasn’t lost a match since November and who knows when of if he will lose again – he’s beaten Federer three times, Nadal now twice during this streak.
As much as it pains me to say it (I admit I haven’t been much of a Novak fan as many of you know), Djokovic is just too good right now. He’s executing in every facet of the game – forehand, backhand, defense, offense, serve, movement, volleys, return and his now he’s finally right between the ears.
Nadal threw everything at him today and in the end it just wasn’t enough. Maybe things change on clay, maybe they don’t. But I think it’s safe to say we have a new must-see rivalry in tennis. And it’s a good one.
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