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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