22 Responses

  1. Matt Zemek
    Matt Zemek June 7, 2013 at 10:03 pm |

    Nadal is the greatest competitor I’ve ever seen in any sport. Better than Jordan. Better than Derek Jeter. Better than Tom Brady. Better than Bird and Magic. Better than all of them. Words fail.

    Nadal doesn’t.

    1. Connie Dula
      Connie Dula June 11, 2013 at 1:56 pm |

      Bravo!

  2. Peter
    Peter June 7, 2013 at 10:13 pm |

    Excellent Commentary, Sir.

    Thank You For Valuable Insight.

  3. marron
    marron June 7, 2013 at 10:20 pm |

    Oh, Juan…. your #10 just has me in tears. Thank you for those words. The commies for this match were brutal. Just brutal. The French crowds have been brutal. Bloggers all over the world refuse to acknowledge how tough Rafa is. To read this from you is soothing medicine. Thank you.

    Nole will win this tourney in future, there is no doubt in my mind about that. He is one fantastic player, and a deserved number 1.

    Now, on to final, no? We gonna see, love Ferru and he makes me nervous despite the H2H.

    1. toot
      toot June 8, 2013 at 2:57 am |

      What bothers me more than bloggers and media refusing to acknowledge how tough Rafa is is their refusal to acknowledge what a fantastic tennis player he is – how smart he is, how fabulous his movement is, how good his strokes are. He hasn’t compiled his incredible record because he’s lucky or because everybody played badly against him, he’s won because he is one of the most talented players tennis has ever seen.

  4. Daniel
    Daniel June 8, 2013 at 4:01 am |

    RE: #5
    Djokovic has always been more aggressive with his forehand than his backhand. Even in 2009 and 2010, when his backhand “held down the fort,” he would mostly just try to stay consistent and work the point, rather than hit outright winners. People say that the great players know how to win even on bad days; well, that’s what it was for an extended period of time for Djokovic: he just found ways to win even though he wasn’t playing well.

    In 2011, he started playing more aggressively from both wings, and going for winners off the backhand side. A lot of those winners were very flat, though, because instead of coming over the ball (like Murray here: http://images.theage.com.au/2012/01/07/2878764/art-murray-420×0.jpg), he hit across the ball like Connors (example from this year: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151642041699920&set=pb.196363369919.-2207520000.1370675725.&type=3&theater). That’s fine if you’re hitting one of Rafa’s forehands and the ball’s over your shoulders, but he developed a bad habit (like you suggested) where he keeps his wrists stable and doesn’t hit through the ball when he’s tight. It’s very hard to consistently hit the ball down the line without a lot of topspin.

    As for Djokovic claiming that the backhand down the line is his favorite shot: I believe him, but there’s a difference between your favorite shot and your most confident shot. I would probably say that my favorite shot is the backhand down the line too…but I won’t even try it unless I’m hitting my backhand well. It’s a very smooth-feeling shot, and watching it go into the open court and past your opponent is awesome. But a lot of the time I’m much more confident rolling my forehand into either corner. His backhand may be his favorite shot, but contrary to what tennis pundits will tell you, it’s not his best shot, and it’s certainly not his most confident shot.

    Anyway, great work as always, Juan Jose. This is my first comment on the site, just fyi.

  5. Nara
    Nara June 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm |

    I normally am a big fan of your writing, and this is alright, but … the trouble with it is that it reads too much like the rationalisation of a guy who expected Djokovic to win, and is really really shocked that he lost. He would have won, but … bad game plan, maybe bad shoulder, maybe emotionally drained, etc, etc. Many Nadal fans sites can do the same for the Djoko run of 2011, and many would be very true. I won’t go into many specifics, but Wimbledon final 2011 was one of the worst matches Nadal has played at Wimbledon, for example. Also Djokovic’s same fool-proof game plan didn’t work in the Rome and Roland Garros finals of 2012, did it, unless there was also some emotional (let-down) hangover in those matches?

    In short, I expected more “how the match was won”, and less “why the match was lost”.

    In short, I think these 2 guys are great, and many of their matches depend on who is playing better on the day. A lot of 2011 it was Djokovic, and a lot of 2012 (or what little of 2012 he played) it was Nadal. Everything else is up in the air.

    1. Dan
      Dan June 8, 2013 at 9:27 pm |

      Quite agree with you. I always wondered what Rafa did in 2012 in Rome and RG differently that helped him win. I think a lot can be attritubted to him developing a better CC BH to protect that wing

  6. Harini
    Harini June 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm |

    This match reminded me so much of the younger Rafa, and like you said, it was a reminder of just how much of a competitor he is. You nailed it on 10. I’ve not been paying much attention to tennis lately (big surprise) but this match made me happy to see Rafa being himself and just playing his guys out.

    It was a fun, tense match and kudos to Novak for giving as good as he got.

  7. dan
    dan June 8, 2013 at 7:55 pm |

    One thing that Djokovic is not, is a true clay player, he should know by now that watering during set is not done and he let his feeling take over… and his concentration was gone.

    Congratulations to Rafa – you are the #1 clay player in the world.

  8. Nadal News » Blog Archive » RafaLint: June 8th

    [...] Ten Final Thoughts on Nadal-Djokovic XXXV – by Juan José (changeovertennis.com) [...]

  9. Annie
    Annie June 8, 2013 at 11:43 pm |

    Wow, JJ, I really loved this. And your #10 made my heart sing. I was
    taught and grew up on clay, have followed the sport for decades, been a fan of many players but Rafa simply blows me away.

    You say it’s his mind you most admire. For me it’s his heart.

    1. Connie Dula
      Connie Dula June 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm |

      Agree Annie!

  10. Sammy
    Sammy June 9, 2013 at 3:21 am |

    What you wrote at no. 10 is exactly why Rafa has millions of fans all over the world. Watching him play draws you into the match, makes you feel you’re part of it as you feel invested in every stroke he hits, every burst of joy after hitting a good shot and every disappointment when things go awry. He has so much passion for the game and so much competitive spirit that you can’t help but be completely absorbed in his matches. I’ve never felt like that with any other player, and I’ve been a tennis fan since 1980.

    I disagree, though, about your incessant theorizing about why Novak lost; he obviously knows that the backhand down the line can be a good weapon to use against Rafa, but he also knows that it didn’t work in the 2012 FO. He knows Rafa must’ve been ready with a game plan to lessen or diffuse the impact of that shot (MC shouldn’t be used as a reference; Rafa himself said he wasn’t playing well throughout the whole tournament, yet he took the 2nd set to a tie breaker so his game was in the ascendancy and, if this were a best of 5 match, who knows what could’ve happened after that).

    Also, the passing of Novak’s coach was certainly an extra motivation to win and you can see it in the way he willed himself out of trouble as the match progressed. Unfortunately for him, Rafa was even more determined to make a statement and he wasn’t going to be denied.

    The Rafa of this FO is a version that’s able to take all what the post-improvement Novak has to offer and return it with interest. He should’ve won the match in 4 sets, and he would have but was unlucky that his deciding service game came in the doomed side of the court where strong wind made controlling the ball a tough challenge (all his service breaks were on that side, he said in the post match presser). I trust his luck will change the next time they meet.

  11. Steve
    Steve June 9, 2013 at 5:02 am |

    I find it kind of funny how a lot of the Rafa fans came in here praising your #10, but trying to rationalize that Novak not being at 100% mentally or physically wasn’t a factor.

  12. quid
    quid June 9, 2013 at 5:27 am |

    An extremely interesting post, Juan José, thank you. Personally, I find your theorizing of some assumed/presumed (i.e., not based on elements directly related to his tennis game)reasons for Djokovic’s loss a bit excessive, but given that in-depth and thorough analysis of professional tennis is indeed your forte and THE very reason you have been progressively bringing new insights and analytical tools into the tennis landscape over the past eight months, I certainly can “weed off” (as Serena would probably say) what I perceive as being a bit superfluous, if not a bit too much new age for my taste, and thus, have thoroughly enjoyed your post, and am convinced I will keep on thoroughly enjoying your posts, as well as keep on skipping the “a bit too much new age for my taste” parts.

    I do agree to a large extent with your assertion that the Djokovic/Nadal SF match at RG 2013 was a mirror image of their championship match at the AO 2012, but personally saw this in simpler terms, so to speak, in terms of the players’ respective performances tennis-wise: at AO 2012, Djokovic’s B/H was more reliable, his ROS was more efficient, he was the one playing smarter offensive tennis and displaying astounding mental fortitude over a best of 5 match on his favourite surface, hence Djokovic’s win over Nadal at the AO 2012; at RG 2013, Nadal’s B/H was more reliable, his ROS was more efficient and he was the player playing smarter offensive tennis and displaying astounding mental fortitude over a best of 5 match on his favourite surface, hence Nadal’s win over Djokovic at RG 2013.

    I do share completely the thoughts you expressed in such VERY NEAT fashion in conclusion to your post: “Rafael Nadal is the greatest tennis player I’ve ever seen. Nobody competes like him. Nobody problem-solves like him. Nobody finds ways to win big matches quite like him. And that, to me, is what tennis is all about: not an aesthetic festival, but a mental and physical challenge.” I would simply add that you’ve probably played, and thoroughly enjoyed, as I have, claycourt tennis and this is partly what has enabled you, and continues to do so, to fully appreciate the somewhat indescriptible beauty, intelligence and greatness of Nadal’s unique tennis game and his exceptional tennis career.

  13. RZ
    RZ June 9, 2013 at 1:09 pm |

    On your point #4, I completely agree. During the 5th set, while Djokovic was ahead, I said something like “Rafa’s going to win this match because of his forehand down the line.” I was amazed at how many times Djokovic gave Rafa that opening. (Maybe he forgot that Rafa is left-handed?)

  14. v.arunachalam
    v.arunachalam June 10, 2013 at 4:32 am |

    mr.Juan Jose, your article is nice except that you ve failed to mention one very important fact relating to Rafa. Djokovic, has been playing tennis tournaments all these years without any break. That means,the world No., 1 has been getting tennis training while playing the best players at very top level. In the case of Nadal, he did not play tennis at all for most of 2012. In addition, his left knee is weak. With such handicaps, Rafa played French Open 2013.kindly imagine if Nadal were alright without such short comings. What would ve happened? The semi with Djokovic would ve ended in straight sets, whatever Djoko tried.Nadal is not only king of clay but i can see a fierce determination that of a Tiger in his eyes when it comes to Roland Garrows. You are right.Rafael Nadal is the best tennis player of all times.Roger Federer says,” Nadal is a unique player with heavy top spin”

  15. Cec
    Cec June 10, 2013 at 11:47 am |

    Regarding your #4 point:

    Nadal’s forehand DTL, while incredibly effective when well-struck, is hardly his most confident, nor highest-percentage shot. He usually doesn’t hit that shot because it’s not a safe choice for him, most of the time. If you look at the dynamic of their rallies in 2011, Nadal stubbornly continued to hit his forehand CC to Nole’s backhand while Nole just camped on the ad side and ripped his backhand DTL or CC at will.

    Similarly, Djokovic would hit his forehand CC deep and with pace to Nadal’s backhand, over and over again, knowing Nadal would generally hit a short CC reply or a slice DTL, both easy pickings for him.

    There were 2 things that changed that dynamic in this match:

    1. The fact that Nadal refused to be pinned to his backhand side, by often hitting a deep CC backhand that landed in the deuce corner. Given Nole’s generally-aggressive court positioning, that shot would cause him problems, resulting in an easy short ball for Nadal to take over with.

    2. Nadal’s forehand DTL. Djokovic’s dominance in 2011 was predicated on Nadal’s predictability when hitting his forehand. 9 out of 10 times he’d hit his forehand cross-court to Nole’s backhand. What’s more, with diminishing confidence, he was hitting that shot short, landing on the service line. Nole would take an aggressive court position and take that shot on the rise, ripping it cross-court or DTL; it didn’t matter the direction, Nadal was in a losing position at that point.

    This time he varied his forehand more than I’ve ever seen against Nole. At the most unexpected moments Rafa would hit that curling forehand DTL and Nole, having given up that side of the court to cover the most-likely shot placement, either couldn’t get to the ball in time or hit a short reply, generally losing the point.

    So I think that rather than Novak employing the wrong strategy (it was the same strategy as in 2011 and we all know how successful that was), Nadal simply adapted his game to prevent Novak from dominating the rallies anymore. For much of the match and definitely on the 5th set, Nadal was playing way out of his comfort zone, taking a much more aggressive than normal court positioning and going for winners.

    Indeed, when serving for the match at 6-5 in the 4th, after making that error at 30-15, it seems Nadal realized he went for a winner too soon and temporarily reverted back to his “safe zone” of defensive play. Evidently he paid the price.

    1. Julio
      Julio June 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm |

      Brilliant analysis, Cec. Agree with your observations and conclusion, which make more sense than the rational expounded upon in the article.

  16. SIB
    SIB June 11, 2013 at 6:27 pm |

    Leaving aside the fifth set, I find it interesting that Rafa won the sets (1 and 3) that immediately followed the watering of the court and Nole won those sets (2 and 4) when the court had dried out. I suspect this says less about which court conditions are more favorable to which player and more about how Nole is best served with consistent conditions. Certainly there is a focus issue here for Nole: nearly imploding in the wind of the 2012 US Open Semis; the inability to cope with his family in his early career, the death of his grandfather, the illness of his father, the death of Gencic; and the constant ability to distract himself in his early career. There are myriad ways that Nole requires a “clean” field — whether that field is within his head or is represented by alternating court conditions.

  17. Morgan
    Morgan June 11, 2013 at 10:32 pm |

    We’ve all seen what a fierce competitor Djokovic can be, too. And for all the guff he gets for early fitness issues, this was his 34th consecutive slam, and his 7th time achieving at least a QF here in 8 years.

    Losing to Rafa had nothing to do with the death of Jelena Gencic – nobody else can beat Rafa in Paris, either.

    Can we all agree that Nadal presently has no knee problem whatsoever? If that’s a “weak left knee”, everyone should wish for same.

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