It’s not often someone beats Rafael Nadal on clay. And it’s even less often that someone does it easily. But that’s what Novak Djokovic did today brushing away Nadal 6-3, 6-3 in two pretty comfortable sets to reach the Monte Carlo final.
Nadal began with purpose jumping out to a quick break with a 2-0 lead in the first. Djokovic would wake up, holding then breaking back and eventually running away with the set. Untroubled on his serve after the initial break.
It was more of the same in the second as Djokovic continued to hold at ease while Nadal struggled with both 1st and second serves. And it all came to a head in an epic 11-minute 7th game with Nadal getting broken.
I said Nadal desperately needed this win, and not only didn’t he get it, let’s be honest he wasn’t even close.
Nadal’s shots just don’t have the depth anymore and his serve just isn’t strong enough on clay against a guy like Djokovic – Nadal was broken four times in nine service games. And really, Novak never looked pressed or out of control at all during the match. To him, this was just another opponent standing in the way of another Masters title.
We also saw Novak employing a new tactic: the drop shot. With Nadal standing so far back, it’s a great strategy win or lose because it disrupts Rafa’s rhythm. And more often than not, Djokovic would win the point.
I just wonder if he showed the drop shot hand too soon, allowing Nadal, with six weeks before a French showdown, time to make adjustments.
So for Novak, the French Open can’t come soon enough. He’s on top of the world and on top of his game. He’s got the edge right now over Rafa and that French title is right there for the taking.
‘It was a fight,” said Djokovic. “I think the 3-3 game in both sets, they were the decisive moments in the match. I managed to win them. When you get to play somebody who has won so many times, so many matches on clay courts, he’s no doubt the best player that ever played the game on this surface, you got to use the opportunities. You got to be able to step in.
“This is the only way I was going to win against him or any other match that I play against him, especially on this surface, is to be aggressive and play my style of the game. I was aware of that. Just very pleased with the performance, honestly.”
For Nadal, it’s a stinging loss and the doubts will only mount. He played well at times, but he came up short, way short. The good news is, like I said, he did have a few Rafa-like moments and the French is still over a month away so he can fine-tune his game. But geez, based on what I saw today it’s hard to see how Nadal is going to get back on top of Djokovic now. There are just too many holes to plug.
“I think I played well in moments,” said Nadal. “I was able to play at the right level for moments to compete against a very, very tough player, the best player of the world like Novak is today. But I got a little tired. Then when you get a little bit tired, you play a little bit shorter. Then it is impossible against him.
“In general, I think I was not that far. For moments I was playing at a very high level. I think he played great. I just congratulate him for the way that he’s playing, the way that he’s winning almost every match of the year.”
A tired Nadal after an uncharacteristically quick 97-minute match against Djokovic? Did the David Ferrer 3-setter have something to do with it? I don’t think so, but if he really was tiring then he has more issues than I thought.
“For me it is a very positive week, the most positive week of the season, without any doubt,” added Nadal. “The way that I played yesterday and for moments today is the way that I want to play. Just with more matches playing like this, I will be enough confident to play. That level will not be the exception, it will be the normal thing. That is the thing that I need to make happen. I hope this tournament is a key moment for my season.”
As for the final, Tomas Berdych awaits. The Czech slayed Gael Monfils rather predictably 6-1, 6-4. Berdych, like Djokovic hasn’t dropped a set, but with a horrible 2-18 record against Djokovic one wouldn’t give him much of a chance Sunday.
However, they’ve only played twice on clay with Berdych winning at 2013 Rome and Djokovic taking their 2012 Monte Carlo meeting in three sets. So while the series is very lopsided, they play much more evenly on the dirt. And under new coach Dani Vallverdu, Berdych has been playing extremely well this season.
“This year is going pretty well,” said Berdych. “It’s going almost the way we set it up. We’re missing a trophy yet as a team and me personally, but it’s another chance tomorrow. I think I’m going to try to put myself [to be] in the best possible position to be ready for it.”
Still, I think Djokovic is too good right now, and he’ll win in two.
“I think he actually likes playing on clay,” Djokovic said Berdych. “It gives him time to swing through on the forehand, plus backhand side as well. He has a good serve. He won against some very good players this tournament. He’s one of the most consistent players we have this year. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated. I’m going to try to just follow up on everything I’ve done so far this week, keep on playing the way I played. If I do so, I think I have a good chance.”
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