Mother Nature has it out for Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. For third time in the last nine months rain has forced these two titans of tennis to complete a tournament final on a Monday.
The late tournament rains at the US Open made Djokovic wait an extra day to collect his first US Open. Then at Rome last month Nadal made the most of the Monday reclaming the Foro Italico. Hell, even the epic Australian Open final went into Monday morning.
So it’s almost fitting these two will decide another title on a Monday. This one of course has so much history on the line.
As for match, it’s gone close to form. Nadal, who’s been so great all tournament, was a little off his game today. But no fuss because Djokovic continued his rollercoaster, patchy form.
Under threatining skies amid damp conditions, Nadal roared out by two breaks 3-0, 30-0 before Djokovic stunningly fought back to even.
Nadal still managed to grab the first set, then the second which was interrupted with Nadal serving at 5-3 by the first rain delay. But it didn’t last long when the players came back some 40 minutes later in the drizzle Nadal sealed the second, got the early break for 2-0 in the third. At that point, it was no longer a question of if but when Nadal would close it out – 15 minutes, 30 minutes? And that’s when something happened.
With the conditions worsening – not just the weather, but Djokovic’s chances down a break in the third – something clicked in the Serb’s game, and suddenly went he “superhuman”.
Djokovic unbelievably ripped off six straight games to take the third and two more to go up a break in the fourth. Nadal, who was already irritated by having to play through the wetness now had to deal with his nemisis Djokovic who had jumped in that time machine back to 2011.
And like that, we had a match.
When the refs finally stopped it Nadal led 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 1-2 with Djokovic serving up a break in the fourth. “Rafa,” Stefan Fransson, “didn’t really want to play on, and Novak said that the court was too slippery to play on.”
And that’s fortunate for Nadal because Djokovic was in one of those video game-like zones. As I’ve said before, Djokovic’s best beats Nadal’s best, especially on clay where Djokovic can get to more balls, do more with them and really exploit Nadal’s serve. And that’s what was happening toward the end.
Djokovic, who didn’t serve well to start, picked up his serving 48%, 50% and then 75% first serves in each set going forward.
Meanwhile, Nadal’s delivery was dropping like a rock in each successive set, bottoming out in that third when he managed to win just 10 points on serve. TEN! Remember, Nadal had only lost serve once all tournament. Today, Djokovic already got him seven times (Nadal also broke Djokovic seven tims as well).
Also, watching the match I just felt like Nadal was playing too far behind the baseline allowing Djokovic to attack with those angles. With that court positioning, if Djokovic is on he wins, if he isn’t he loses. It’s really in his hands.
As for tomorrow, I think the rain will diffuse a little of the momentum of Djokovic had accrued. It should also help Nadal gameplan for Monday.
Djokovic, though, has to be feeling good and once again feeling free. Down two sets and a break the match was effectively over but as we’ve seen many times before – especially in women’s tennis – when players almost accept defeat that’s when they play their best. I’m not saying Djokovic knew it was over, rather I think he just loosened up knowing things couldn’t get much worse and he began going for more, and it worked. Novak beat Federer like that at the US Open last year, he beat Tsonga too.
Tomorrow I think Nadal regroups and gets back in control of the match. Djokovic has come out flat a few times this tournament – Seppi and twice today at the start and after the first rain delay – so the resumption will be key.
That said, if Djokovic can maintain that form he can win this. Not only does he have the game but he also has the belief because he’s done it three times before in Grand Slam finals, even on a Monday. And he’s still riding that destiny thing. Imagine becoming the first player to beat Nadal from two sets down on clay, do it in Chatrier and the reward is career Slam.
After lackluster start it looks like we are headed for another fantastic finish.
NBC Sports Network (not normal network NBC we in the U.S. watched today) will air the match live starting at 7am ET. NBCSN took over for the old “Versus” network and many cable providers offer it. The match will also be streamed live on NBCSports.com. But it will not be on regular NBC.
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