What a battle yesterday between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the French Open semifinal. If you haven’t seen it, please do. Youtube, TennisTube, DjokovicTube, ESPNADAL, TennisTV, whatever it takes. Even if you are not a Djokovic or Nadal fan, it’s worth the time.
For about two hours yesterday the two were in full-flight, slugging it out video game-style. That was some good, enthralling tennis.
Some more thoughts:
1. DJOKOVIC WAS RIGHT ABOUT PEAKING
Remember back in Rome after Nadal beat him Djokovic said he “was happy to play him because of the fine-tuning for Roland Garros”. I guess he was right.
All spring he’s been talking about peaking. And full credit to him, he did it. And that’s part of being a Grand Slam champion is picking your moments. Yesterday, that’s what he did.
“I’m not going to show him all my cards in Rome…” Djokovic sure had a few aces up his sleeve.
2. ANOTHER BAD START
Talk about deja vu, how in the world does Djokovic go down 0-5 to Nadal in two straight French Open finals? That’s living on a very, very dangerous edge. I honestly thought the match would be over a hour later. I was stunned. Clearly, Nadal was deep in Novak’s head and this was over. But no. This time, though, Djokovic somehow, someway got up off the mat, took the standing 8-count, and recovered.
Like a boxer taking the blows and realizing if that’s as bad as it gets, then it’s not that bad.
Djokovic withstood the early barrage, then late in the first you could see he was starting to get his feet. Even those first few games were long and tough, but the ball just didn’t go Novak’s way. Eventually, it would and it did.
Nadal wouldn’t win another set.
3. CRAZY THIRD SET
It’s hard to argue their 92-minute third set wasn’t one of the greatest sets of tennis ever played. Yeah, there were four breaks but the rallies, the angles, the gets, the tension, the crowd were all incredible. And that’s after a couple of hours having already battled.
Every point seemed like life or death. And I guess toward the end it was.
4. THAT DROPSHOT!
Djokovic was hammered for all those dropshots he tried in the October meeting with Nadal. Well, yesterday he used one to perfection at a most critical time.
Serving 5-6, ad-out facing a set point and virtual match point (to me it was), Djokovic got Nadal off balance with a backhand cross to Rafa’s forehand, then dropped a beauty off his backhand that Nadal couldn’t answer.
If Djokovic misses that dropper, Nadal takes the third, goes up two sets to one and that does it…Because in my mind…
5. WINNER OF THE THIRD
After such an incredible set, it’s understandable for the loser of that set to get down and deflated, and I think that’s what happened to Nadal (and it would have happened to Novak had he lost it).
Djokovic got over his skis early, but then realigned himself and rolled Rafa the last six games.
6. TENNIS BEAT THE VIRUS
Even the virus had to stop to watch this one. Instead of sending everyone home at 11pm after the third per the national curfew, health officials allowed the fans to stay for the finish of the match.
So Djokovic-Nadal is more important than a global pandemic!?!?! Only in Paris.
7. WHAT’S NEXT
Well, if Djokovic can seal the deal Sunday, then the implications are huge. At the very least, Djokovic will win either Wimbledon or the US Open, and perhaps both. So that dropshot winner should get him to 21 by February at the very latest. And who knows what else. So much history hinges on winning three sets tomorrow.
As for Nadal, at 35 and with Djokovic having just taking him out in his house, it’s going to be tough for him to recover. And I wouldn’t be surprised if 20 is where Nadal ends up. I don’t see him winning on grass or on the hardcourts. Not at 35. And next year, Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, etc., are all going to be better.
Those young guys won’t be coming for just Nadal, either. They are also targeting Djokovic, so Novak will also be under pressure, that’s why tomorrow’s match, Wimbledon and the US Open are so important. The sooner the better.
8. FANS ARE BACK
It was great to have the fans there for the end. It’s so striking the difference in atmosphere when Roger Federer beat Daniel Koepfer vs. yesterday. Imagine how it would have looked if there were no fans. How the highlights would look in 10-15 years from now when people look back.
So I guess kudos to the French Open. They moved the tournament back a week so they could get more fans week 2, and it certainly was the right move.
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