We are just 24 hours or so from crowning our final men’s Grand Slam singles winner of the season. The last two men standing are familiar faces and familiar foes, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. It is and has been the best rivalry in men’s tennis and it’s a fitting conclusion that marks the end of 2011 Grand Slam season.
Before I look ahead, let’s look back to a crazy day of tennis Saturday.
Almost improbably, Djokovic ripped the heart out of Roger Federer once again. Last year the Serb saved two matchpoints to stun the favored Federer. Yesterday, up two sets and cruising it looked like Federer would get his revenge. But credit to the Serb who despite not playing at his highest level came back for the second time in his career from two sets down to steal the win.
After a poor start, Novak moved into the court more, became more aggressive and seized control of the match early in the third as Federer began to fade.
In the fifth, Federer actually pulled ahead late, finding himself in prime position to seal the serving 5-3, 40-15. And that’s when the bottom fell out. Djokovic cracked a return winner which ignited a brisk four game run sending the Serb into his second straight US Open final.
For Federer, sure he was close again but it’s another devastating, heart-breaking loss. Roger fell apart to Tsonga at Wimbledon and for the second straight slam it happened again. That’s a trend, a bad one at that. And I hate to say it but it’s a further sign of a mental deterioration for the now 30-year-old.
Maybe Fed gets back on top, maybe he doesn’t. He’ll need some soul searching after this one because this one is going to sting.
In the second semifinal Nadal rose up like champions do and punked Murray. As long as Nadal, Federer and Djokovic are around it’s tough seeing Murray ever getting that elusive Slam title. Mentally and tactically he just doesn’t seem to have it right now in a best-of-5 format.
And you have to admire Nadal. Despite all that’s gone on with him this summer he’s still out there taking on all challengers and battling like it’s life and death every match. You have to tip your cap to him.
As for Monday…
Novak Djokovic v. Rafael Nadal
I picked Djokovic right from the start and despite what I wrote about Nadal above and his record in finals I’m staying with Novak.
The summer and the season seems setup for him to wrap up New York with a storybook finish.
Djokovic had questions about his shoulder but has answered them. I had questions about fitness but Saturday he showed he can win a long a match.
And now, thanks to a schedule revision, he’ll have an extra and much-needed day off to prepare for Nadal.
In their rivalry, Rafa leads 16-12 but most importantly Djokovic has won five straight, all this year and all in big match finals.
Novak beat Nadal twice on hardcourts earlier in the year at Indian Wells and then at Miami. On clay, it was the same story as Novak got the better of Rafa on the Spaniard’s favored surface.
The rivalry shifted to grass and Djokovic was again the better man snatching his first career Wimbledon title in July.
Now it’s New York.
Nadal’s biggest problem against Djokovic is between the ears. Rafa has admitted that mentally there is a block against Novak. To beat someone on a high as Djokovic, you have to believe. There can be no doubt.
Assuming Rafa has solved that issue, he’ll still have to deal with Djokovic, who moves better, serves better, plays defense better and hits his backhand better than Nadal.
Rafa still has the forehand and the experience. He’ll also have the crowd. But Nadal will have to serve well because for me, Djokovic can really punish Nadal’s second serve
In the end, I think Novak’s just destined to win this title. He got two retirements en route, he hit a “snap” return down matchpoint to Federer which dropped in. He got a day off before Nadal. It’s all set up and with his incredible season I think he follows through.
I should be a heck of a (re)match.
The pick: Djokovic in four.
CBS will have the final live at 4pm in most areas.
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