Djokovic Denies Nadal on Clay to Win Madrid, Stays Perfect in 2011
by Sean Randall | May 8th, 2011, 3:30 pm

That was about as convincing a win over Rafael Nadal on clay that I have ever seen. There are no asterisks on this one, no injuries. I picked Nadal to beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets but the Serb turned the tables in amazing fashion today stunning the Clay King on his surface and in his backyard. Djokovic was simply the better player winning 7-5, 6-4 to claim the Madrid title and improve his win streak to 34 overall, 32 this year.

And arguably, Djokovic had an easier match today than he did beating Nadal on the hardcourts at Indian Wells and Miami. Forget the talk of altitude, that’s just scary.

I attribute that to a key fact I overlooked when matching up these two on clay: return of serve. In his service games we saw today how Nadal had to work so much harder just to stay neutral because Djokovic puts so much pressure from first ball. And if Nadal’s not cracking his serve a guy like Djokovic is going to eat those first and seconds serves for lunch. Djokovic did just that troubling Nadal multiple times, even off the first serve, which put him in the driver’s seat for the point.

Sure, Nadal is going to get into Novak’s service games more on clay than hardcourts, but overall Djokovic has a better serve and if he can stay with Nadal off the ground like today he has the better ability to attack Rafa’s serve and dictate play. And if you can dictate play on the clay you usually win.

Nadal’s been doing that for years, but we saw today Djokovic jumping on Nadal’s serve, controlling the point early and not letting go.


I thought Nadal would lose this clay season and sure enough it was Djokovic delivering the blow. That said, I’m starting to get the feeling this won’t be the only clay loss for Rafa.

I know the clay in Paris will be better/truer playability-wise and slower, and it is best-of-5, but if Djokovic can duplicate what he did today it’s going to be very tough for Nadal to beat him next month in the French Open final. Very tough.

Rafa will almost have to hope Novak has an off day to beat him in Paris. Yeah, i’m thinking this new Novak matches up better with Rafa on clay than on hardcourts for the reasons I just gave. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

As for the match, a spotty performance from Nadal early before getting back on track. But Djokovic’s baseline game (especially backhand) was rock solid, defense was super and his return game was nearly impeccable. And after back-to-back three setters Friday and Saturday, there were absolutely no signs of any fatigue which is a real positive for the Serb.

The loss for Nadal ended his 37 match clay win streak and with Novak well in-form I wonder if the two will play in Rome which for some reason began today. If your Djokovic, do you want to play Nadal again next week and perhaps lose the edge you just gained? Tough call, but I’m sure Nadal wants another crack.

An interesting clay season it is.

Djokovic: “It is a very special day for me because it’s the first time I managed to beat Rafa on clay. I’ve played a great match from the first to the last point. I got to the court believing I can win and that was the only way that I could get a win in the end.”

“I know that this run that I have is really incredible but I try to think about how long it’ll go and when I will be beaten. It’s how many more wins I’m going to have. Every time I go on the court I’m motivated to win and not thinking that this is the day I’ll lose.”

On the No. 1 ranking: “If I keep winning I’ll get closer but I’m trying not to think about that. I just started the clay court season. It was a perfect start with the two tournaments that I won and I need to stay dedicated and focused on the upcoming events because if I want to reach No. 1 I have to play consistent because that’s what Rafa will do and the rest of the players. It has changed, I have a different mindset right now, I’m more stable and I know how to think right.”

Nadal: “He’s playing at a really high level. We’ve got to accept that. When someone is better than you there is nothing you can do other than congratulate him and that’s it and look forward to your next tournament and try to keep up, see what you’re missing, what you’re doing right and face forward with the correct attitude and with mental strength. You have to be cold, mentally speaking, and you have to look for solutions. Try to be better, try to practice and next time I’ll try to do better.”

“If I lose No. 1 it’s not the end of the world. If I lose it I will be No. 2 and I’ll be very happy. I’m just happy to go out on court and have the feeling that I’m competitive and I still have this feeling but at the moment I haven’t been able to beat him but I’ll try to work and I try to beat him. The good things will come and you’ve got to be patient.”

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82 Comments for Djokovic Denies Nadal on Clay to Win Madrid, Stays Perfect in 2011

andrea Says:

nadal’s shots don’t have near the penetration of novak’s. the crazy spin that confounds everyone was not a huge factor today; novak had the answer.

it’s been so rare to see nadal get upset or miffed or down on himself while playing opponents but for the last three finals against novak, there have been several instances where you see him getting down on himself/pi**ed off etc.

i also thought it would be at least 3 sets, so you have to hand it to novak delivering the straight set win. great s tuff. what a record to keep alive as well.

you can’t use federer as a gauge anymore, and now it’s not fair to even use novak as a guage as to how nadal is playing. nadal is still going to beat 95% of the players out there. i think he got lucky with delpo pulling out.

but even with roger, the match was close, despite the 6-1 score in the second set. nadal isn’t mowing everyone down on clay this season. more and more of his service games are going to duece and beyond.

interesting. let’s see what rome brings.

Ben Pronin Says:

Here’s my prediction: Djokovic goes 2011 undefeated and retires (before even Nadal and Federer).

skeezerweezer Says:


Yeah I have been wondering what happened to Rafa’s 130+ MPH Serve he developed for the last USO? I know he hurt his shoulder later last yr, and now I am wondering if it was from his new serve, and then he went back to the old Lefty cutter?? Anyways, the big serve I saw at USO is gone.

I too thought that Novak would just run out of “hotness”, but he is here to stay. Fabulous stuff. Every aspect of his game has gotten better and more consistent. Now I have no idea how high this guy is going, and after beating Fed and Rafa 3 times each ya gotta say he is the top dog right now.

Of note on returning techniques among the top 3. Who rarely ever chips/slices a return back?

i am it Says:

I knew one day you would come to Novak’s side after the end of Fed’s reign. It is/ was obvious he won you finally.
Thanks for the timely celebratory article.

One comment on “Yeah, i’m thinking this new Novak matches up better with Rafa on clay than on hardcourts for the reasons I just gave. (I can’t believe I just said that.)”

I would go as far as to say this: Rafa cannot beat Djoko by tiring him out any more. His current level of game is not enough to trouble Djoko. He will have to come up with a different one or hope to find the Serb on his below-the-par bad day.


I almost always enjoy Nadal or any No. 1 losing in a fierce battle of great magnitude,
and have always loved Djoko winning,
no matter against whom in either case (Nadal’s loses and Djoko’s victories),
And when it happens both at the same moment,
you know the joy just simply multiplies.
There is certain aesthetic, or maybe anesthetic, numbing, drugged-induced voyeuristic pleasure in the gaze of the lion falling in the battle of will and craft, durability and skills, sweats and heartbeats, muscle and laser-focused mind, etc.
I could not help coming here to celebrate this moment.
Hello to all old friends: Duro, Sar, Jane, Margot, Skeeze, Contador, Daniel, and all.
Thanks Skeeze and Jane on the other thread.

Ben Pronin Says:

You know what’s really cool, Djokovic is 10-0 against top 10 players this year. That means almost a third of his wins are against the top 10. There’s really no way to discredit this streak.

fed is afraid Says:

congrats to novak,
he owns tennis.
he owns rafa.
sad times for me.

Eric Says:

LOL. Good joke. :)

Today was proof that there is a huge sea change underway in tennis. I still think Rafa is virtually untouchable on “real” clay (wasn’t Federer saying that Madrid is faster than Miami or something?). Notably, he is still undeniably the favorite at RG. But this is a huge, huge win for Djokovic, bigger than any of his others since the AO. It proves that, so far in 2011, he owns Rafa completely, not just on his own turf – hardcourt – but on the clay king’s dirt too. The confidence he has to be bringing out of this tournament has to be unbelievable.

The fact is, Rafa has not been very scary since the USO (and even there, he did not really “deserve” to win). He is starting to go the way of Federer already — undeniable talent, drive, yada yada yada, but just half a beat behind too often and unable to really take it to the opposition. So far, this has only really been revealed vs. Djoko, but the other top players who have good defence and, particularly, movement, are not rolling over for him (or Fed) anymore like they used to. Basically, Rafa’s offense, like Fed’s, is not consistently energetic and accurate enough to blow opponents away, so their weaknesses are open and exposed. And apparently, Nole just doesn’t have any mercy or flaws. When he loses a match — probably at RG, if not Rome — the real test will be whether he takes it in stride, as a fluke, or is mentally destroyed by it and reverts back to playing second fiddle to Rafa and Fed (assuming Fed steps it up a bit, natch).

Sean Randall Says:

Skeezerweezer, unless Rafa adds that pop on his serve like we saw at the US Open, I don’t see how he beats an in-form Djokovic next month.

Djokovic was feasting on that Nadal serve today. Even the first serves.

On hardcourts against Novak, Rafa can hide it better but on clay as we saw today it’s dangerously exposed and a guy like Novak took full advantage.

My guess is Uncle Toni going to really work on that before the French.

i am it, I’ve always lauded Djokovic’s game, just mentally and physically he has never been there. Until now.

That said, i’m still not 100% convinced of Novak’s fitness but this weekend he did show me a lot.

Eric Says:

Sean, how can you not be 100% convinced of the fitness level of a player who has beaten Rafael Nadal, in big tournament FINALS (where Nadal NEVER loses!), three times so far this year? Including in, honestly, easy straight sets on clay? (I don’t know how Djokovic lost that 4-0 lead in the first set, but breaking Rafa four times in total out of elevent service games ain’t bad.) He didn’t even look tired.

Ben Pronin Says:

Wait, Sean, you said something about gamesmanship when these two play, what were you referring to?

brian Says:

That was a fantastic performance from Nole..Towards the end i almost forgot to glad that he continues his great run and the best part is he was able to defeat the King of Clay at his favourite surface in his backyard !!

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Wow. What did I sleep through? Truthfully, I’ve found the matahon baseline slogging between these two a little too boring to tune in, despite the intensity, and now I’ve missed something historic. Reading about the match, the fact that Nole can eat Rafa’s serve is huge. Actually, I was shocked how easily Fed was handling Rafa’s serve yesterday and Novak’s return game is easily a level above Fed’s, so… someone should have seen this coming!

We all wondered how long this historic dominance on clay could last. Could it now be undone? Most matches, someone can have an on or off day, and in the end its just a match. But between these two- they play on endurance, consistency and confidence. I find the meaning of their match outcomes to be definitive. Both are such confidence players, this will put a major chink in Rafa’s armour for matches to come, possibly even emboldening Fed against him. Rafa has drawn Fed in Rome- it will surely be interesting to see on which side he falls in Paris.

All these years Rafa played understudy to Fed… finally he makes the leap forward in 08, to promptly fall back to 2 in 09. When he seized #1 running away in ’10, we all wondered how long the reign would last.

Apparently, 4 months (Sept-Jan). I have said since 09 that DelPo would be the next #1, and it looks like I may have been wrong about that.

For 2 years we had a Big Three. Then Muzza made Four. Now we’re back to three for the time being and it may be that DelPo hops in or Fed falls out in the RG/Wimbledon sessions ahead.

Eric Says:

Also, whether Djokovic wants to play Nadal again or not is irrelevant… and what a stupid question, of a kind that keeps popping up here. I mean, Jesus Christ, top tennis players don’t throw matches because they’re afraid to play someone else in the next round. Yes, their minds might wander, but after owning Rafa in three masters tournament finals, I don’t think Nole is going to be quaking in his boots at the prospect of having play him again.

And I do think it’s a bit of a fantasy to already be assuming a Djoko vs. Rafa final at the FO. Six rounds and several excellent players you can’t just write off (hello, Roger Federer? Soderling? even Murray?) stand in the way of that scenario…

Kimmi Says:

i am it – you should never go away! welcome back.

sean says “Djokovic was feasting on that Nadal serve today. Even the first serves”

yap. i was surprised to see the stats for rafa first delivery. he was 56% of his first serve. 39% of his second. djokovic was all over it.

jane Says:

Thanks for the quick and positive article Sean. It is such a thrill that he was able to get this one win over Rafa on clay, even if it is Madrid clay.

Re Nole’s fitness: A few of the symptoms of a Gluten Allergy are: Upper repository tract problems; Fatigue; Iron-deficiency anaemia; and Asthma.

So if Nole’s doctor has helped him get this under control we can see how it would help just by looking at the above symptoms. Also Nole hired a new trainer in mid-09, so that has maybe paid off now. It wouldn’t be instant.

As Nole has been saying, his present success is due to the combination of a lot of hard work paying off and things finally clicking into place with his team, in his personal life, with his health, which seems good overall.

And i still think his serving woes have a kind of silver lining, in that they forced him to become the best returner in the ATP in order to stay near the top last year. And now that his serve is more reliable, it makes for a winning combination.

margot Says:

i am it: where’ve u bin hon? Missed yer big time. My “yard” is looking fabulous btw, May is a glorious month :) Stick around please :)

jane Says:

Yeah i am it, you should pop in more often as we missed your twocents on things. Speaking of which, where is Twocents? He hasn’t sauntered in and breezed out in a while.

Oops meant respiratory not repository @ 4:27, ha ha. Must be darn autocorrect.

Anna Says:

All I can say is congrats to Nole and I’m starting his new diet ASAP. Like right now. Nole is superman and he’s certainly made this clay season a little less “boring” no? Let’s see what pans out in Rome.

Aleksandar Says:

He’s just perfect… As much as Rafa have a lot to inprove till RG there is also a segment in Novaks play aginst Rafa in which he can improve. And that is points on the net… it comes with self-esteem cause u have to play it perfect aginst RAfa if you want to be more out there on the net and wining at Madrid, on the clay… here it is. One is sure. These 2 players will give us meny more years of great tennis and great rivalry 2 rememver…

Mila Says:

Another fact is that Novak had much easier time with Nadal today than with Ferrer or Bellucci. If I were uncle Toni, I’d be worried by that fact.

fed is afraid Says:

maybe rafa’s time is over
i hope not

tfouto Says:

fed is afraid, do you think Nadal is afraid?

fed is afraid Says:

no, he’s just concerned.

Mila Says:

Few post-match quotes from Novak and Rafael:

Novak:”Unbelievable, I stepped onto the court today believing I could win. I needed to be aggressive and it was a great match.”

Rafael: “I came up against a great player obviously – he’s having a monster year. “He was better, you have to accept that.”

And like this one from Rafa:
“The number ranking is not in danger – it’s finished. Let’s not lie to ourselves, that’s the reality.”

You’ve got to like both of this guys – gentle in words, fierce with raquets!

Duro Says:

The quote of the year:

“The number one ranking is not in danger – it’s finished,” said the 24-year-old. “Let’s not lie to ourselves, that’s the reality. Nobody likes to lose…”

Rafael Nadal.

Kimmi Says:

i think “fed is afraid” should change name to “rafa is afraid”.

3 straights loses to djoko. he must be afraid..

Dory Says:

It’s all coming together perfectly for Djokovic. Hope he’ll be able to keep his run for as long as possible.

Duro Says:



tfouto Says:

“The number one ranking is not in danger – it’s finished. Let’s not lie to ourselves, that’s the reality”

Rafael Nadal

Kimmi Says:

oh, c’mon rafa..number 1 is still to play for.

djoko needs to keep working hard. rafa can overtake his race points as soon as he wins RG

Mila Says:

Duro, thumbs up for the quote! Seconds late though ;-)

Duro Says:


Damn! It says 5:13 for both of us, but the site prefers women. They allowed you to be the first!

I don’t mind anything today!

In No1-vak we trust!!!

Dory Says:

All these years Djoko was underrated and written off many times. Now he’s getting his much-deserved dues. If he continues this approach of thinking about only one match at a time, who knows what he will win this year?

Skeezerweezer Says:

Don’t forget Rafa has a history of minimizing his chances and loves the underdog role…

The Wizard of Tennis Says:

Using past arguments whenever Federer beats Nadal:

1. Federer softened up Nadal for Djokovic to beat him. Rafa was obviously mentally tired from beating Federer and from Seve Ballesteros’s passing.

2. Federer yesterday showed the blueprint on how to beat Nadal on clay. Djokovic learned the executed a similar strategy slightly better and more consistently.

3. The Djokovic-Nadal battle got a bit monotonous, predictable and boring after a while, lacking the flair and surprise that Federer can still bring to matches.

Will the same stupid question be asked of Nadal that was asked of Federer: How can Nadal be the greatest of all time if he is not even the best of his era (even age group)?

After all, Nadal became No. 1 during a Spring period last year when all the top players (Federer, Djokovic, Murray, Delpo, Davydenko, etc) were in a slump or injured.

Poor Federer mostly gets Nadal as semifinal opponent on clay and Djokovic as semifinal opponent on hardcourts.

It’s stupid to write off Federer:

1. Roger could have and shoild have beaten Nadal in straight sets yesterday.

2. Roger avenged his French Open loss to two-time FO finalist Robin Soderling, beating him in straight sets even without playing his best. This proves the theory that Federer would be blown off the court by big powerful guys like Soderling and Berdych is false.

3. Federer had the toughest real draw in Madrid, more than nadal or djokovic. Arguably he has faced tougher opponents earlier in more tournaments he played, compared to nadal or djokovic.

4. Federer has not lost before the quarterfinals in over one year. That’s amazing, his consistency at his age. Neither nadal and djokovic in their prime have been able to do this. Despite his age, Federer might still catch the wave and get to another level.

johhny Says:

Sean Randal: do you remember articles you had written where you labeled Novak as a “garbage man”?

Samuraj Says:

I’ve remember articles about garbage-man Novak in past history… And what to say nowadays…

jane Says:

Daniel won the Madrid bracket challenge between us TX payers so kudos to Daniel!

jane Says:

Oops, meant players not payers, though some of us pay for bad picks. ;)

skeezerweezer Says:


I am sure Sean can speak for himself, but articles written up here and posts a very long time ago have to be taken into the times they were in. And remember, they are not wizards, just given there input and opinion based on the times.

Well, no doubt, the times are a changin and I thinnk even Novak’s hardcore fans could not have predicted his fantastic ascent and streak since his this year.

I myself never liked Rafa but as the times went on I came across the line to like him alot as a person. Still don’t care for his “style” of game but you cannot deny his results in 2010 against a field with 3 slams.

Me thinks Sean overall is a good writer and at times throws some flair in there for us to debate. And that is a good thing, regardless of weather you agree or disagree.

If Nole was ever called a garbage man, well, as they say, I want to be the garbage man! Being a garbage man and beating Fed & Rafa 3 times each this year? Crazy. Excuse me, I want to take out the trash…….

Sean Randall Says:

Johnny, absolutely I remember.

Like this article?

But back then, let’s be honest it was 100% true. That’s what he was. To his credit he’s really turned things around especially since that US Open match with Troicki.

I’ve always thought Djokovic had a game that could get to No. 1 but between the ears and in the body he was underachieving. And I think even he would agree with that.

But like I said he’s really made quite an improvement, unlike any I’ve really seen in quite a while.

Think about where he was seven months ago to now…Incredible.

tfouto Says:

the last game is suberb. Djoko hits all the balls with an amazing convinction.

Eric Says:

Belittling the achievements of players ungraced by the acclaim of tennis-x writers is nothing new. Caroline Wozniacki apparently just can’t get any love, for example, even though she’s dominated women’s tennis for the past year+ in a way not seen since at least 2007 or 2008. Sure, no slams, but those will come with more maturity. (And, by the way, no overinflated point totals from winning a slam means that her secure no. 1 ranking is just that much more impressive…)

grendel Says:

” The Djokovic-Nadal battle got a bit monotonous, predictable and boring after a while,”

I didn’t find this. Great defence is very moving, and when two players are patrolling their base lines absolutely intent on protecting their kingdoms, as they swing from side to side picking up deep, deep balls and returning them just as deep sometimes from very difficult positions, forcing very difficult improvisory shots including penetrative half volleys, when you see them manouevering all the time just waiting for the opening, and when this happens in rally after rally – the spectator, this one anyway, is simply amazed at the combination of physical skill and mental stamina. Nor is it quite uniform. Once or twice, you saw Djokovic chance his arm a little early, pay the price, and berate himself for his impatience, momentary lack of focus, whatever. But is it that? Or is it that sometimes you hit bullseye, sometimes you miss, that’s how it goes? Because every now and then Djokovic would release a ferocious bh from an impossible angle which seemed to contradict all that careful probing.

Yes, there were some magical moments from Federer yesterday, but the match was far less gripping. For magic to really impact on the viewer, it must be backed up by consistency, and this was lacking.

But there was something else apart from the actual tennis which made the match so utterly absorbing even to a viewer who is a fan of neither player. The great Nadal seemed to be being beaten from the base line. He was being outlasted. We see him, occasionally, being outhit – but outlasted, on the clay? Anywhere, actually? Surely not. Surely this was a temporal blip and order would shortly be restored. Waiting for the resumption of order, finding it repeatedly delayed and yet convinced that at some point it would be regally imposed – and then finding it just wasn’t happening, not happening at all – this in itself was emotionally exhausting.

This was a gladiatorial battle, and we are in debt to both players, since Nadal’s role was as crucial as Djokovic’s.

van orten Says:

the reason why djoker has been the best this year is his incredible return game!!!! he drove fed crazy in all matches he won this year returning as today vs rafa incredibly well.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Grendel- spoken like a pure soccer fan. Probe, probe, probe, probe…breakthrough.

Really have to wonder what happened to the serve and aggressive gameplanning Rafa displayed at USO. Seen one fortnight, and never again.

jane Says:

I like your take grendel. I found the first and last sets of the Fed vs. Nadal encounter also very engrossing. The way Fed righted the ship after being broken immediately to begin the match, there were worries, at least at my end, that this would be like their semi at Miami. But then “The Fed” showed up! He was a treat to watch in set one, even though he still wasn’t serving his best (firsts, I mean). Set two was where, of course, the lack of consistency on his part came in since he lost focus, and Nadal upped it a gear or two at the same time. But Fed was close again in the third, I thought, and he pushed in many of Rafa’s service games, just could not break through. Maybe it was the aggression on the return: that needed to be carried all the way. No chipping?

Madrid, though, is clearly Nadal’s weakest clay event. It is the one at which he’s been beaten, by Fed and now Nole. Before it was Hamburg. Just like some hardcourts suit a player better than others, the same must be said of clay. Not as an excuse on behalf of Rafa – as if he needs one with his incredible record! It’s still clay. But it is just a reality that it is not his favorite clay surface because it plays so fast.

jane Says:

Tignor’s article on Djoko’s win “Winning Patiently”:

grendel Says:

TV – a player like delPotro doesn’t really probe, he seems to be incredibly aggressive almost all the time. And then my dear Kvitova, whom I was delighted to see winning earlier today, hasn’t got a defensive bone in her body. Ask her about probing and she might clout you, assuming you are making an indecent suggestion. But players like Djokovic, Nadal, Murray and -yes – Federer too to a degree, are constantly probing, manouevring, looking for the weakness which will enable them to pounce. There was a beautiful example of this recently from Federer who was playing, apparently harmlessly, up and down the middle, until he had the ball just where he wanted and then he unleashed a corking fh drop shot, with perfect disguise – chappie caught napping. Probing done its job. re Nadal’s serve – right towards the end he unleashed one or two bombs. It seems he still has the capacity, but is reluctant to use it (injury fear, perhaps, as Skeeze suggested?)

jane I agree with you, Federer was sort of coming back in the 3rd, and overall it was a very encouraging display. It wasn’t a great match, though, not like today’s. That’s not to say there won’t be further great Fedal matches.

This whole business of what constitutes a difficult clay court for Nadal is a puzzle. Hamburg, after all, was a very slow court. They say Rome is very slippery – whatever that means. Is that good for Nadal, bad for Nadal, what for Nadal?

All will be revealed soon….

Nina Says:

I’m writing way too much at too many sites… so I only have this to say: superb stuff from Djoko, he’s done the unthinkable, it’s hard to understand how he can be undefeated this season when we are already in May! Every day he amazes me more and more, I don’t have more words to explain it. I don’t want to wake up from this dream. This is history in the making, right before our eyes. Simply, too good Djoko, too good.

Kimmi Says:

just finished watching the match again. incredible djokovic! in order to beat rafa you need to execute the perfect game and he was today.

What he now needs to do is to have his sight at RG..that is the biggest prize he needs to win after being able to take out rafa on clay.

probably djoko streak will be stopped by another player not one of the top guys. bellucci was so close to beat djokovic yesterday, at one time he was up a set and a break, he just could not maintain mentally. i think he got injured too..

If nole is able to beat rafa in rome , rafa confidence will be shattered going into the french….ok, i am getting too carried away here, there is a lot of tennis to be played for sure but i am so glad this clay season is getting interesting. lets see what happens.

grendel Says:

Talking of surfaces, Murray says he likes Rome:”I’ve been hitting the ball well in practice and I like the surface here.” Some of Murray’s comments in the above link are a bit of a puzzle:”I’m still having trouble with my elbow,” he says. And then:
“My aim here is to win the tournament. Last week could have been better, but I feel good, better than I did in Madrid” Wonder what he means, especially since he was being very positive about his chances in Madrid just before it started. Hope he does well, anyway. Djokovic/Nadal is good, but not all the time, please.

Kimmi Says:

ha-ha same here grendel re: clay surface that rafa loves. I think he likes all clay even madrid clay, he just does not like the altitude.

Kimmi Says:

i am looking foward to see if something have clicked in bellucci. hoping his perfomnace in madrid is not a one off.

he is so beautiful to watch. so much talent. he has a great kick on the second serve that was troubling djokovic.

i remember the commentators in todays match keep saying rafa needs to learn a serve like bellucci..

jane Says:

grendel, those contradictions made me so confused about how far to send Murray through the draw on my bracket challenge lol! The furthest he has been in Rome is the 3rd round. So I took him to the Quarters. His section was tough to pick because all of those guys – Verdasco, Simon, Roddick, Davydenko, even Soda have been pretty inconsistent. Sigh, anyhow if Murray is confident and not worried about his injury, that is good to hear.

I would prefer Nole focus on the FO now too Kimmi.

I am stoked to see Bellucci versus Rafa in round two, assuming Bellucci doesn’t lose in round one or something silly like that.

Mila Says:

It’d be really nice to see Murray go far in Rome. He is such a talented player and deserves more success.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Have to say, I’ve criticized Nole for having no heart in the past, but he has really shown otherwise. He’s had the heart of a lion this year.

grendel Says:

Kimmi, I agree with you about that kick second serve of Bellucci’s. I’ve never seen anything like it, although Federer has a pretty good one. What I don’t understand is, why didn’t Bellucci use it more often? They say the key to the success of the body serve is to use it sparingly, for it depends for its success on the element of surprise. Fair enough. But surely that isn’t true for a really high kicking serve? That’s just intrinsically difficult to deal with, isn’t it? Even if you knew it was coming – what could you do about it? I wonder if perhaps the degree of kick is unreliable – if, in short, the server is almost as surprised as the receiver by those balls which jump way up beyond the shoulder? Anyway, it’s late and I have to get the boy up for his bloody school. He was sick the other day, which meant lovely lie in (in theory – in practice, these lie-ins are not quite what they are cracked up to be; you still somehow feel dozy, and guilty too, and then you wonder, well, why bother getting up at all? It’s by eschewing attitudes like these that Djokovic has become the force he is…….. ….

Kimmi Says:

i am sure as he gains more experience, bellucci will learn when to use his kick serve…often that is!

Skeezerweezer Says:

Serving at it’s best is extremely close to a baseball pitcher, if you have variety and strength. Use it wisely, and you get a lot of free points. Use it as an after thought, like just get it in to start play, then it’s useless. And then some think if I just hit has hard as I can, no one will return it. Ask Roddick about that…the service game can be the ultimate offensive weapon when used with a strategy.

tennislover Says:

Great win for Djokovic. The mental and physical toughness he has been showing of late is quite remarkable. He just does not give up no matter what. He has been up and down in Madrid but has found answers and raised his game when needed. That really is a sign of a champion. Bellucci was the only player who appeared to pose a genuine threat the way he overpowered him in the first set but that sort of level is tough to sustain and the injury didn’t help him either.

I think Nadal has looked strangely vulnerable- one felt it in IW and Miami too- and not necessarily because of Djokovic’s brilliant tennis only. Now, this could well be a very temporary thing because he is so young and has come back very strongly in the past but I sense signs of a crack. Just a wee bit worn out in my humble opinion. The consistency or level of intensity just does not appear to be the same as before and his movement to me looks a touch slow.

I think he got a bit unlucky with those two let chords in the 12th game of the first set and serving second in both sets put him under a lot of pressure especially towards the closing stages of both sets. Of course, huge credit to Djokovic for capitalizing on those opportunities by upping his level and going for broke. I also found Nadal’s tactic of repeatedly going to Djokovic’s bh very strange. Nadal thinks very well on his feet but he didn’t stop it even though it brought him little reward. One saw very few of those monster inside-out forehands which are so deadly and which Bellucci used to great effect in the sf. He could have mixed it up a bit and used his slice much more to disrupt the rhythm. Even though Djokovic is a great returner, some of the serves especially the second serves from Nadal were very poor.

One can not read too much into the result for Djokovic’s chances against Nadal at RG(because of the slower surface and best of five format)and a clash at Monte Carlo would have given better cues. However, the signals are very encouraging indeed and Nadal’s odds will get slightly longer and Djokovic’s odds will get shorter. A Nadal-Djokovic final appears very likely although some other players may have to say something about that.

Grendel- Congrats to you and your son on ManU virtually sealing the premiership. Our fears were unfounded after all. Can’t wait for 28th May. By the way, I responded to your David Gower query on the other thread.

tennislover Says:

I thought I saw one or two seriously good kickers out wide into the deuce court by Djokovic today.

Kimmi Says:

“I think he got a bit unlucky with those two let chords in the 12th game of the first set and serving second in both sets put him under a lot of pressure especially towards the closing stages of both sets”

Nadal always likes to receive to start the match. i don’t know if it is a strategy on his part but as you say, at the end of the set when the score is close, there is lots of pressure to catch up.

well, he has always done it without much of a problem. he is won more matches doing the same no worries there.

But in a match like today, it was probably a disadvantage for him.

Ben Pronin Says:

Two things:

1) Sean, stop avoiding my question. What gamesmanship stuff were you referring to. I haven’t slept in weeks.

2) I think it’s funny how it took Nadal one tournament to raise the standards on his serve. His relatively “poor” serving shouldn’t really be attributed to his losses in any way. Recall that he started dominating on clay back in 2005 when his first serve probably maxed out at 105mph. It’s been roughly a year that it’s become any sort of legitimate weapon. It’s still exponentially better than it ever was. His first serve percentage was outrageously high today, anyway.

Daniel Says:

Now that I realise Nadal tastes the 10 lost to the same player mark.

Djoko managed a great feat, first player to achieve 10 wins agaisnt Rafa and joined Federer as the only 2 players to have ever beaten Nadal on a clay final!

Dory Says:

When Federer captured it all, he managed to do so by his repertoire of shot making and skill. That worked against every player except Nadal who outlasted him physically and had a massive topspin forehand which has always been difficult for Federer’s BH.

Similarly, Nadal’s game used to be and still is to physically outplay his opponent, digging in, grinding the opponent down by hitting powerful shots back and forth, relying on his physical ability, stamina and athleticism in case the exchanges turned into long rallies. It worked against all players, except one. He finally has run into a player that’s every bit as athletic, powerful and quick as he is, so his brute force method is not as reliable any more.

The scary part is when Djoko is playing well, he doesn’t have a weakness.

tennisfansince76 Says:

@Grendel your post about the match today is magnificent as well as spot on!

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Dispute the idea that Novak has no weakness- his net game is far below his backcourt ability. Surely someone, someday, will be able to exploit that. Not easy, give how quick Nole is, but I suspect we’ll see it someday.

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Additionally, he still is not really an offensive player, so, like Rafa, he might be at a disadvantage against DelPotro who can make Djokovic’s endurance and consistency a moot point.

Daniel Says:

I found Nadal not agressive enough too. He wasn’t going for the lines at all, and he was over celebrating any winner he got or passing shot. He was/is just not confidence enough agaisnt Djoko anymore. That’s my impression, it’s start to getting into his head, and we may see it in the next 2 events.

From the moment the match got tuff, he sticked to his bread and butter and wouldn’t adapt.
Even against Federe in the semis, his changed something after losing the first set.
Today, it was as if he was thinking in his mind: the backhand will crack, it has too…

Ben Pronin Says:

I think it’s funny how Djokovic has gotten to a level where everyone’s trying to deduce how one should approach beating him. Quite remarkable really. I can’t believe how long ago we were all wondering how the hell Roddick could beat Federer, then how Federer could beat Nadal (especially on clay, man that must’ve been the most discussed match up ever), and now how Nadal can beat Djokovic.

I think at the end of the day it’s just confidence. Djokovic said it himself that only a few points here and there separate the top guys. And in reality, all the pros are only separated by a few points. That’s why when a Nadal, or a Djokovic, or a Federer dominate their opponents on a consistent basis, people take special notice. I think it is safe to say Djokovic is in Nadal’s head, for now anyway, the same way Nadal was clearly in Djokovic’s head when he beat him 5 times in a row in 2009. You lose one set, another set, a match, a few more sets and matches, and suddenly you feel like no matter how great you play, you’re going to lose (classic examples would be Federer in Rome 2006 and Djokovic in Madrid 2009, maybe even Nadal at Wimbledon 2007).

I’m glad Djokovic has proven he can take it to Nadal anywhere, it just makes the rivalry a lot more interesting. I’m sure Nadal will beat Djokovic at least a few times this year (at the rate they’re going surely they’ll play 100 more times) and hopefully Djokovic isn’t done beating Nadal, either. Rivalries are more interesting when you really don’t know who’ll win. I think Federer can still beat both of these guys but it’s definitely not expected. And I do hope he will get some wins off of both them, again for the interest factor. And I definitely hope Murray and Del Potro start making some real noise. Delpo’s injuries have to be a huge concern and quite frankly I’m starting to lose hope in Murray.

Sean Randall Says:

Ben, I was speculating about a possible Rome meeting. But with Novak winning today it’s probably the mute.

The idea being why show your true hand in Rome (or Madrid) when the real goal is Paris? And does the winner (had it been Nadal today) really want to play the loser (Djokovic) again (and vice versa)?

Another thought. This week in Rome would Djokovic benefit at all by winning the tournament and beating Nadal again? I’m not so sure.

Of course ranking-wise it would help but if he wins the French that’s far more important in points.

Personally, I think Djokovic will realize there’s little to gain from Rome and either skip it or withdraw midway to rest for Paris. We saw him with the knee strap and he made some awkward twists so the seeds have been planted if he wants to use it.

Sean Randall Says:

Ben, tennis is a lot about matchups as well.

Djokovic matches up really well with Rafa.

Nadal matches up good with Federer.

Federer matches up good with Roddick.

Roddick matches up good with Djokovic.


Ben Pronin Says:

So you thought Djokovic was gonna tank? Plausible. But I wouldn’t hold it against Djokovic to want to beat Nadal as many times as possible whenever he gets the chance.

I do kind of fear Djokovic beating Nadal again in Rome. I feel like should that happen, Nadal will literally die before walking off the court a loser if they meet at the French Open, too.

Ben Pronin Says:

I don’t think Roddick matches up well with Djokovic. I think that was all mental. Game-wise, I don’t see anything that gives Roddick an advantage over him.

I know it’s about match ups but even though Djokovic has always matched up well with Nadal, he still lost 2/3 matches he played against him until this year. Actually more, 7-16 record heading into 2011, 7/23 < 2/3. That was definitely a confidence/mental thing.

Sean Randall Says:

Not quite a tank, but something like that.

And with No. 1 on the line THIS WEEK, Djokovic has a heck of a decision to make.

Sean Randall Says:

Roddick v. Djokovic is one match I’m hoping to see while Novak’s on the this high.

Djokovic should whip him every time but it’s usually the other way around. I think Roddick’s in his head and Andy’s serve puts so much pressure on Novak. Of course that was the old Novak so I’d be interested to see how the new one does…

Ben Pronin Says:

It would definitely be ideal for Djokovic if someone else took out Nadal in Rome, whether he skips it or not. If Nadal loses early, he won’t have that 1000 point cushion. There’s definitely more ground to gain at the French Open where there’s really no reason for Djokovic not to make the semifinal at the very very least.

Ben Pronin Says:

Well Djokovic whipped him good at the World Tour Finals. I don’t even think it’d be fair though. Roddick is in a pretty bad slump losing to players out of the top 100 at the moment. It’d be just cruel to pit him against Djokovic right now. Maybe it’s because Djokovic’s post match celebrations are so calm that it doesn’t appear that he’s a vengeful guy, but deep down you gotta think that he’s thrilled to be beating Nadal in all of these heart breaking matches. So wouldn’t put it past him to want to good old fashioned pay back against Roddick, too.

grendel Says:

tennislover – only just caught your excellent comments on David Gower et al. I’ll never forget watching Gower hit some West Indian fast bowler over his head for six. I think it might have been Michael Holding, elegant, smooth and deadly. The shot was so languid as to be almost an afterthought. I loved his batting, but I loved his opposite, too, Ian Botham – whilst disliking his general aura. But as a cricketer, he was so exciting (and unEnglish, too – the Aussies liked to claim him as one of their own). In sporting terms, if you like Gower, you like Federer; if you like Botham, you like del Potro. In my book, there is room for all. As a child, partly for geographical reasons, Tom Graveney was my hero – he was even more graceful than Gower. In those days, the English distrusted excessive talent, and Graveney had a hard job getting into the team.

I, too, would follow the cricket obssessively on the radio. I liked John Arlott, Richie Benaud (on tv) was the most perceptive commentator I ever heard in any sport. Fred Trueman (England’s greatest fast bowler by far)was a pet hate – you always sensed he was reluctant to praise anyone who came from a generation later than his own, especially if he was a fast bowler. Faint praise was his speciality. “The lad’s put a lot of effort into it, can’t deny that” he’d say when Bob Willis had just taken 8 for 56 or something like that. On the other hand, he was effusive in his praise for Dennis Lilley – he was Australian, so represented no threat.

I’ve stopped watching and following cricket on the whole. It’s just so time consuming, I can’t cope. But for me, cricket is in the blood, it’s in my head and in my heart and I live on the memories of it. They are rich and they are enough. I expect somewhere in the world, probably in India, there is a batsman very like Tom Graveney. I will leave the current generation to applaud and enjoy him. I still have Tom Graveney, 258 not out and can he overhaul Len Hutton’s 364? History says no. My special time machine augmented imagination says yes…..

Lulu Iberica Says:

Ok, enough excitement for me! I am now ready to go back to the “boring” old days of Rafa winning! LOL! I agree with Tennislover that Rafa has seemed vulnerable lately, even apart from Djoko’s fantastic play, and that is worrying to me. Well, we’ll see what happens on the slower clay I guess. I can hardly bear the thought of Rafa not being the best on clay at least, and him not even 25 yet. Whatever happens, 9 is a nice number, and no one will ever replace Rafael for this fan. In the future, I will look for him in the stands at RG and remember his glory days as people do with Borg today. No one ever looked so good in pirata pants!

JF Says:

Let’s not get carried away.. Nadal is still the man to beat. We still have 3 grand slams coming up. Rafa has made it to the finals in the past 3 tournaments which is no easy feast. All credit to Djoko, if not for him, Nadal would have 3 more titles to his name and noone would be saying how he is a step behind already.. that his better days are behind him.. yada yada.
Of course this does rise concern for the will be interesting and if it might be good for Rafa in the long run in the fact that it might give him renewed motivation.
I must agree though that his serve needs to be more effective.

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