That was emphatic. Novak Djokovic proved he’s the best there is right now absolutely crushing Rafael Nadal in their quarterfinal meeting today at the French Open 7-5, 6-3, 6-1.
In the first set, Djokovic jumped out to a 4-0 lead against the error-prone Nadal, and I wondered if the match would even last 90 minutes as Nadal looked completely out of sorts.
Playing on his 29th birthday, Rafa bounced back and started finding his groove. He scrapped his way to two breaks over a now edgy-looking Djokovic to level at 4-4. But he couldn’t sustain his level against the Serb who was too strong. Djokovic took the first set 7-5, then broke again early in the second and it was effectively over.
“You prepare for this match in the best possible way tactically, mentally, and to get out there and execute your plan. Obviously it’s easier said than done when you’re on the court with him and on the court that he has only lost once in his entire career,” Djokovic said. “But I managed to do that. Had a very strong start. Except, the second part of the first set and first part of the second, the entire match went really well for me. It’s definitely a big win, a match that I will remember for a long time.”
What we saw all year from Nadal spilled over into the match today. Short balls, weak serving, etc. And a lot of that had to do with Djokovic who played some of his best tennis at times. And that’s saying a lot considering how well he’s done this year.
“The first set was key. But then when you lose in the way I lost today, I’d say c’est la vie,” said Nadal. “It’s the way it is. If you look at the score I’d say I didn’t win enough games. He played better than I did. You have to accept it and congratulate the other player. Then you have to analyse the reasons and then work really hard. This is what I think I’ll have to do now.”
Watching the match, I thought Novak really took advantage of Nadal’s poor court positioning with the dropshot, which we saw repeatedly. And he was really cracking his forehand today while Nadal was misfiring all over the place.
Novak really looked the part too. Sharp, in charge and composed out there. Like he hadn’t lost to Nadal the last three years and six times overall in Paris.
As for Nadal, who falls to 70-2 at the French and 93-2 in best-of-5 on clay, he’s just not the same guy right now. He’s lost five straight sets now to Djokovic on clay, and really none of them were even close. And he’s losing to a lot of other people.
“I accept the defeats and there is only one sure thing: I want to work harder even than before to come back stronger,” said Nadal.
“I am going to fight. I lost in 2009 and it was not the end. I lost in 2015 and it is not the end. I hope to be back here next year with another chance.”
Of course he can get it back. He just needs to find that confidence again. The speed, the power and shots are still there. He just needs to get his head right. Will it come? Who knows. I hope it will because it was sad at times watching him struggle today.
“This month was quite positive,” said Nadal. “Even though, I must say that today was not the greatest of all days. But as I said earlier on, whether you win or lose, life must go on. Next week we will have other competitions and such is life. In my case, life will continue whether I win or lose.”
In the second semi, Andy Murray battled to take the opener then won going away 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1. Murray has now won all 15 clay matches this year, and this was his first win over the venerable Spaniard on the slippery surface.
“I feel like obviously this year I played much better tennis on the clay,” Murray said. “I feel like I understand how I have to play on the surface better than I did in the past.”
Now Murray has the task of finally ending a 7-match losing streak to Djokovic.
“Going into the match having not lost on clay this year and having some big wins on the surface is important for me,” said Murray. “I will just keep doing what I have been doing: have a good practice tomorrow, recover, and come up with a good game plan.”
Overall, Novak leads 18-8 with this just their second meeting on clay and Novak’s won both at 2011 Rome and 2008 Monte Carlo. This will be their third straight Slam in which they meet.
“Right now I’m aware that this is a big win, which I will enjoy tonight,” Djokovic said. “But tomorrow is a new day and I have to move on. It’s only quarter-finals, and I want to fight for the title. That’s what I came here for. I have to kind of direct my thoughts to the semis.”
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