Welcome to a most momentous installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match is the one most tennis fans have been anticipating since the Roland Garros draw came out: World No. 1 and recent Monte Carlo champ against the 7-time Roland Garros champ and greatest claycourter of all time. Even if the rankings tell a different story (look at the ATP Race if this point bothers you), the two best players of the 2013 season will be battling against each other for the second time this year, and 35th time overall (stop and think about that for a second).
Their historic head-to-head , which Rafael Nadal leads 19-15, looks like this:
That was Part 1….this is the only H2H that demands two screencaps. Part 2:
Here is a little trivia about this most significant joint history:
- This will be the fifth time that Nadal and Djokovic face off at the French Open. Nadal has won all four matches, and Djokovic has only managed to one set in those match. Both men met on Philippe Chatrier for three straight years starting in 2006. But then they had to wait until last year to see each other again. Incidentally, it was at Roland Garros where this rivalry started, seven years ago.
- Djokovic and Nadal had met in 11 straight finals until today (which is pretty crazy). Blame the Tennis Gods, the Draw Gods, or any deity of your choosing for putting Nadal in Djokovic’s half at this year’s Rolly G to break the streak. Two of their previous Roland Garros matches have been semifinals. Overall, both men have played 11 semifinals before today (4 have been on clay, 6 on hard courts, and 1 on grass). Nadal has won 6 of them (all 4 on clay, 1 on hard, and 1 on grass).
- Should Djokovic manage to beat Nadal today, he would have completed the incredible feat of knocking out the clay GOAT in all four big clay events (Roland Garros, Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid). That alone would be Hall of Fame-worthy.
- This is not pertinent to this H2H, but relevant nonetheless: Rafael Nadal has not lost a clay semifinal since the 2003 Umag semi against his dear friend Carlos Moyá. That’s the only time Nadal played Umag, too.
Three Things to Watch For:
1. Who will be calmer during the big points of this match? After 34 matches, Nadal and Djokovic know each other’s games as well as anybody could. But they don’t know how they will keep their composure when crunch time comes. Those break points, set points, even 30-all points: who’ll be able to hold his nerve to seize those pivotal moments?
2. How will the loser of the 1st set react to the adversity? Nadal has won all four first sets of the four previous meetings on Chatrier between the two. He’s also won all four second sets as well. Overall in the H2H, the winner of the first set has gone on to take the match 29 out of 34 times (85%). That’s pretty significant, no?
3. Will weather play a significant part in how the final unfolds? A sunny and dry environment favors Nadal, whereas a cold, damp atmosphere favors Djokovic. The forecast suggest sunny and dry, so it will be interesting to see if Nadal will be able to take advantage of the high-bouncing ball and the quicker pace. And what will happen if the conditions change mid-match, like they did for the Sharapova-Azarenka match yesterday?
If you want to re-live the last match these two played, at the Monte Carlo Country Club just a few weeks ago, here’s the LiveAnalysis post I did for it.
Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
As in previous LiveAnalysis posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error
The men are on court, and the most pointless coin toss in tennis has already taken place. Djokovic always chooses to serve, and Nadal always chooses to return. I always wonder why they even go through it.
Sheesh. John McEnroe's "color" commentary has already reached self-parody levels, and the players are just warming up.
— Andrew Burton (@burtonad) June 7, 2013
Johnny Mac just said that the wind favors Djokovic, which is the funniest thing I’ve heard on live TV in a while. Also, he made it fairly clear he didn’t watch the Monte Carlo final. He’s embarrassing. Also embarrassing? The Chatrier crowd:
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 7, 2013
First Set – Novak Djokovic will serve first.
0-0: Djokovic starts the match with a second serve, and then he attacks until he forces Nadal’s error. Side-to-side stuff. The second point is more of the same, but ends with a FH DTL winner. The World No.1 has come to play, it seems. A short return is punished by a BH DTL putaway, and it’s 40-0. Then, another winner seals the hold: an I-O FH this time. That was one impressive opening game by Novak Djokovic. Simply flawless, even though he played half those points with his 2nd serve.
1-0, Djokovic: 5 straight points for Djokovic, as he forces the error with a BH DTL that barely catches the tape. 0-15. Nadal finally gets on the board with a nice combo of wicked FHs – 1st I-O, then CC. 15-all. BH UFE by Djokovic, who seems intent on either going hard CC with that shot, or deep up the middle. A small little wrinkle from the usual DTL stuff. 30-15. Now Djokovic forces Nadal’s BH error with a nice CC FH. 30-all. Now a clutch Ace out wide by Nadal to reach GP. Djokovic then plays a wonderful point, first with a big CC BH, then a huge CC FH, which is followed by a sweet, soft BH dropper that Nadal can’t get over the net. Deuce #1. BH DTL UFE by Djokovic, who is going for more than usual on that shot. Missed by a mile. AD-Nadal. The Spaniard approaches the net after an I-O FH, but Djokovic anticipated that shot perfectly, and drills a FH DTL pass that Nadal can barely get a racquet on. Deuce #2. Nadal hits a glorious I-O FH winner that gets called out…but then Pascal Maria calls in. Hawk-Eye calls it out, for what that’s worth (not much). Djokovic agreed with the call. AD-Nadal, and now a Nadal “Ace” gets called out by Maria upon review. 2nd serve. Then, a fascinating point: Djokovic starts pummeling Nadal’s BH corner with either his I-I FH or his BH DTL, then choose to approach on a good I-I FH, but gets passed by Nadal’s all-time-great CC BH pass. Finally, Nadal holds.
That was huge. Well, the guys have come to play. Which is great to see. Djokovic definitely going for more early on, and he’s controlling most of the points. This last bit has to worry Nadal.
1-1: Nadal plays incredible defense…but then sends a BH UFE long. 15-all. The men then play a fantastic, all-court point that ends with Djokovic having to hit 2 volleys due to Nadal’s fantastic defense. 30-15. SW, 40-15. I-O FH UFE by Djokovic, and it’s 40-30. It’s getting windy out in Chatrier. However, Djokovic ends up holding after a short return is followed by a great angled FH that draws Nadal’s error.
The one difference I see from previous matches is Djokovic’s clear intent to attack with almost every ball. Usually he mixes in the pace some (particularly early in matches), but today he’s hell bent on pushing Nadal far behind the baseline and bossing him around the baseline. Not a bad idea…but difficult to execute at a high level for long stretches. As for Nadal – he’s on full react mode so far. Has found it hard to get back into rallies so far, let alone dictate some of them.
2-1, Djokovic: BH UFE by Djokovic, 15-0. Nadal then lines up a relatively simple I-O FH putaway….but misses it wide. 15-all. Djokovic then goes for a big CC BH…but misses. Not sure it was a great shot had it landed in – Nadal was standing right on that corner of the court. 30-15. Nadal then manages to get in control of a point with his FH, pummels Djokovic’s BH, and forces the error. 40-15. Djokovic then drills a fantastic 1st serve return deep, and moments later forces Nadal’s BH error with his CC FH. 40-30. Nadal then goes on the offensive, first with a CC FH, and then with a great CC BH that has just enough angle to make it tough for Djokovic to get to. That had to be a boost for Nadal to get a slightly less protracted hold in. The quality of the match has gone down a notch: the past few games have been a little sloppy.
2-2: Djokovic starts with an Ace. That’s followed by a BH UFE. Djokovic then goes for an ill-advised FH DTL off a very good return by Nadal, and misses. UFE, and 15-30. He approaches the net after a very short Nadal return, and the Spaniard can’t get the FH DTL pass in. 30-all. Nadal now with a probing BH DTL UFE. 40-30. Nadal then goes on a rampage with his backhand: first CC, then DTL, and he finishes with an I-I FH winner. That’s as good a sign as any for Rafael. Deuce #1. Djokovic then gets a good serve in, and fully pounces on a short return. Of course, it takes three shots to force Nadal’s error. AD-Djokovic. Nadal gets a good return in – nice and deep, and then pounces with his I-O FH after a shortish Djokovic reply. Deuce #2. Then, a simply gorgeous, brutal point. The men cover the entire baseline, and Djokovic fully takes advantage of the first short ball of the rally with his BH DTL. Fantastic, fantastic point. AD-Djokovic. The Serb holds after a rare shot selection mistake by Nadal: he went for an I-O FH dropper that missed by about 4 feet. One thing to note in that game was how many deep returns Nadal got. That’s absolutely key for him: he has to trouble Djokovic with his return. This game also sent a nice message to Djokovic, who’s become the frequent tormentor of Nadal’s service games. Insert cliché about feeding Djokovic some of his own medicine.
3-2, Djokovic: After a lot of scrambling, Djokovic ends up losing the point, and grabs the back of his hamstring afterwards. Not the greatest sign. Nadal is crushing the ball now: everything goes deep, and you can almost feel the kick of that topspin through the TV screen. Moments later, Nadal ends up holding at love. You can feel the early tide changing. Djokovic’s aggression has lessened, and Nadal’s has increased. A key game for the World No. 1 is coming up. 3-3: Djokovic starts this pivotal service game in great form: a deep BH DTL is followed by an opportune BH dropper. Great play. 15-0. A short 2nd serve return by Nadal goes wasted as a BH DTL lands wide. 15-all. Then, a glorious FH DTL by Djokovic after a Nadal shot clipped the net triggers a smash opportunity that doesn’t go unused. 30-15. Then, another BH DTL UFE. 30-all. Djokovic with twice as many BH UFEs than FH UFEs (4 to 2). Then…a badly missed opportunity by Nadal, who pushed Djokovic back, had a short FH putaway, and missed it long. Remember that point. Djokovic then with another UFE, and it’s Deuce #1. What do you know…another BH DTL UFE. BP #1 for Rafael Nadal, and it’s saved by a SW out wide. Deuce #2. Then, for some reason, Djokovic tries to serve and volley off a wide serve..and gets summarily passed. Not a good strategy on this surface. BP #2 for Nadal, but it’s saved by a good 1st serve, and a great I-O FH winner off a short Nadal return. Deuce #3, 2nd serve. Djokovic makes another tactical mistake, rallying to Nadal’s FH, and that results in a blistering FH DTL by the Spaniard that forces the error. BP #3, and it will be on a 2nd serve. Djokovic again with the tactical miscue: goes to Nadal’s FH with the first rally shot, and gets burned by another FH DTL by Nadal. The 7-time Champ is up a break!
Well, this game was set up as a huge moment, and Nadal not only avoided regretting that missed FH at 30-all, and comes up with the break. A very, very poor game from the World No. 1: full of BH DTL UFEs and tactical mistakes.
4-3, Nadal: Djokovic seems to have a chance to get a positive start in Nadal’s service game after a deep return, but misses a CC FH wide. UFE. 15-0. SW, 30-0. Ace out wide by Nadal – Djokovic’s reaction was worryingly slow there. A great I-I FH approach by Nadal results in an easy volley opportunity. And he consolidates the break at love.
Time to wonder if Djokovic hurt his hamstring two games ago. His movement has definitely gone south…as well as the level of execution on most of his shots.
5-3, Nadal: Djokovic stops the bleeding and goes up 30-0. Moments later it’s 40-15 after a short Nadal return and a good Djokovic FH. The hold takes place after a Nadal FH UFE. The match is sadly fizzling away. Djokovic’s body language has taken a hit, and Nadal’s execution still isn’t pristine. Crunch time coming up, but the recent trend indicates that Nadal will have little trouble serving out the set: Rafael has held to love in his past two service games.
5-4, Nadal: Great wide serve, short return, fantastic CC FH, and a perfect smash. 15-0. Then, a glorious CC return by Djokovic forces the error. 15-all. Djokovic then gets a great return in play, goes on the offensive, but Nadal forces his error with a fantastic FH defensive slice. That was key. 30-15. Another tactical mistake from Djokovic: he has Nadal on the ropes, and approaches the net on a sloppy FH DTL approach, and gets summarily passed again. 40-15, double SP for Nadal. SW out wide, and Rafael Nadal has taken the first set.
First set to Nadal. 6-4. 51 minutes. (GTY) pic.twitter.com/uUwO1IoPYM
— Joe Fleming (@ByJoeFleming) June 7, 2013
First Set to Rafael Nadal, 6-4.
Here are your 1st set stats:
Second Set – Novak Djokovic will serve first.
0-0: Djokovic fires an Ace up the T for a 30-15 lead. Then, a BH DTL UFE…once again. 30-all. SW up the middle, 30-all. Goes without saying that this is a must-win game for Djokovic. Going down a set and a break to Nadal at Chatrier is never, ever a good thing. The World No. 1 does end up holding to 30 after Nadal can’t handle a 2nd serve kicker.
The greatest stat for Nadal? Djokovic has yet to create a single BP. Holding serve comfortably is the key to anyone’s success, but few feed off of that as well as Nadal on clay.
1-0, Djokovic: Djokovic gets to 15-all purely because a Nadal pass clips the net and lands out. A SW makes it 30-15. Djokovic gets a deep FH up the middle in…and somehow forces Nadal’s error. 30-all. Then, BH UFE #1940854975207250785. That’s followed by an exasperated scream by Djokovic. A further error by the Serb grants the hold to 30 by Nadal.
1-1: Two great CC BH winners make it 30-0 for Djokovic. A good sign for him, since his BH DTL is far from reliable today. That’s followed by a wild I-O FH UFE. 30-15. 30-all after another error, but Djokovic gets to 40-30 after a Nadal UFE. A hard CC BH by Djokovic triggers a Nadal shank, and he’s somehow held.
Rafael Nadal looks to be comfortably in charge of the proceedings, but he’s letting a few half-chances go by. If he tightens up the execution just slightly, this match could be on its way to a straightforward ending.
2-1, Djokovic: Finally, a BH DTL is executed properly by Djokovic. He forces the error shortly after. Then Nadal gets a time violation…in a match where everybody’s slow. Let them play, Pascal. 2nd serve. Nadal is undeterred, and fires away a fantastic CC FH that leads to an easy FH putaway. 15-all. SW into the body, 30-15. Then it’s 40-15 after Djokovic goes for an ill-advised CC BH that finds the net. 40-15. 2nd serve SW for Nadal. An easy hold. 2-2: Nadal barely misses a FH DTL, so it’s 30-0 for Djokovic. Then, a FH DTL UFE by Djokovic, who had hit a great wide serve to set up a relatively simple shot. 30-15. Then, another FH UFE, this time of the I-O variety. It was off a short return that Djokovic wanted to crush, but netted. 30-all. Then Nadal goes on the offensive with his FH, and forces the error. BP #1 of the second set for Nadal. 2nd serve. Djokovic with another key tactical miscue, as he goes for a dropper, executes it poorly, and Nadal punishes it with a simple BH DTL winner to go up a break.
Nole broke himself from 30-0.
— Chris P (@scoobschris) June 7, 2013
Pretty much. Rafael Nadal is now up a set and a break, and that’s never, ever a bad thing for him.
3-2, Nadal: Ace out wide, 15-0. A great CC BH by Djokovic makes it 15-all. A Nadal serve catches a bad bounce, Djokovic returns it, but Nadal ends up putting away the resulting short ball. 30-15. Another fantastic CC BH by Djokovic forces Nadal’s error. 30-all. Huge half-chance for Djokovic. 2nd serve. A glorious CC angled FH by Djokovic sets up a FH approach, and Nadal can’t get the pass over the net. BP #1 for Djokovic. 2nd serve SW for Nadal. Off Djokovic’s BH. A costly, costly UFE. Deuce #1. A great BH DTL that catches the tape forces a Nadal shank, and it’s BP #2 for Djokovic. Simply amazing stuff from Nadal, with a glorious wide serve, a fantastic CC FH, and an even better I-I FH. Djokovic defended well, but that was too much to take. Deuce #2. Nadal draws Djokovic in with a short slice, and gets a look at a BH pass. Djokovic gets the volley in, and Nadal can’t handle it. BP #3. Nadal produces 2 dazzling FHs…but the third, an I-I FH, lands wide. Novak Djokovic has gotten the break back!
That was….surprising. Though we all know that Djokovic tends to play looser when he falls behind in a match. For once his BH DTL didn’t let him down in that game, and he got plenty of deep returns. The surprising element is how much he’s willing to go for the CC BH. That’s not usually a part of the normal strategy.
3-3: Djokovic leaves a ball hanging in the middle of the court, and Nadal punishes it with his CC BH. 15-30. SW, and it’s 30-all. SW out wide, 40-30. Huge serves from Djokovic, at extremely key times. And as I type this, an Ace out wide seals the hold and consolidates the break. It seems like going down a set and a break was everything Djokovic needed to get back in the match. And Nadal is probably kicking himself for wasting the break lead (and for wasting the half-chances early on). And now…the power goes out for just a second, but makes my cable box reboot. However, it’s back on.
4-3, Djokovic: The first point I see after the technological problems is a Nadal DF that sets up BP for Djokovic.Then the World No. 1 plays a masterful point, and finishes with a simple yet brutal I-O FH winner. Novak Djokovic will serve for the second set!
Again, this is not the first time Djokovic has reacted positively to a significant deficit. It’s still impressive to behold, though.
5-3, Djokovic: Novak starts extremely well, putting away an easy volley. Then the pair play a wonderful point in which Djokovic seemed to have the early edge, only to see Nadal turn the tables on him and finish with a great volley of his own. The Serb applauds the effort. Nadal then misses a BH slice pretty badly, and it’s 30-15. Costly miss by Nadal, who can’t hide his frustration. Djokovic gets a look at a short BH approach, but his DTL attempt goes straight up the middle, and gets him passed. 30-all. Djokovic then blasts away with his I-O FH, but it’s his glorious CC angled FH that finishes the job. A truly magnificent shot. SP #1 for him. Then a BH DTL by Djokovic catches a bad bounce, fools Nadal, and the Serb has tied this SF at one set all.
To say I didn’t see this coming would be a mild understatement. Djokovic looked down and dusted after going down a break in the set. But then…he woke up.
Impressive to see that #nole, in the worst situation found the ressources to regain the speed that was missing.
— Patrick Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) June 7, 2013
Second Set to Novak Djokovic, 6-3.
Here are your 2nd set stats:
Third Set – Rafael Nadal will serve first.
Honestly, I don't think you should be allowed to have a Slam if you can't fill the seats for Djokovic-Nadal on clay. Pathetic. #RG13
— Courtney Nguyen (@FortyDeuceTwits) June 7, 2013
0-0: Nadal comes up with a simply astonishing CC BH pass that lands squarely on the tape. Incredible. 15-0. Moments later, another sweet CC angled FH by Djokovic sets up a very easy volley. 30-15. Nadal then blasts a FH DTL winner off a short Djokovic CC BH, and it’s 40-15. That’s followed by an unreal FH DTL return winner by Djokovic. A bad Nadal BH UFE brings us to Deuce #1. Nervy moments for the Mallorquí. Djokovic plays a near perfect point…but ends up sending an I-I FH just long. He’d love to have that one back, for sure. SW for Nadal, and he’s survived.
1-0, Nadal: Rafael plays a glorious point, yanking Djokovic from side to side with his haymakers…but then misses the putaway FH by about 4 feet. A bad miss. Moments later, it’s 30-0. Djokovic then blasts FH after FH…until the last one finds the net. 30-15. In a similar vein, Djokovic goes for a huge I-I FH off Nadal’s return, and misses it well long. 30-all. Nadal comes up with a glorious DTL BH, forces Djokovic’s error, and he’ll have his first BP in a while. Which he converts, after a hard Djokovic CC BH is deemed out by Maria and the line judge…but not by Hawkeye.
Yet another plot twist in this match. That CC BH did not miss by much, and Maria did not find the ball mark with ease. This is a game of inches, no? More like millimeters, really.
2-0, Nadal: Nadal races to a 40-0 lead after a SW, and fires an Ace up the T to seal the hold and consolidate the break.
3-0, Nadal: In the blink of an eye, Rafael Nadal goes up a double-break. Djokovic has lost the tactical plot again, and the Spaniard is surging.
4-0, Nadal: Nadal goes up 40-0 just as quickly as he broke. He’s firing on all cylinders…and Djokovic isn’t. The perfect recipe for a lopsided set of tennis. Djokovic misses a 2nd serve return long, and Nadal has consolidated for a 5-0 lead.
And here I thought Sharapova-Azarenka yesterday was a rollercoaster. However, it now seems that Rafael Nadal has his foot pressed firmly on the gas pedal, unlike at the end of the first set/beginning of the second. Djokovic will have to clean up his act pretty quickly if he’s to send this to a fifth set. And avoid a third set bagel.
5-0, Nadal: A gorgeous Nadal CC BH winner sets up double-set point, which is also double-bagel point. However, the first BP is saved by a beautiful drop volley by Djokovic. Then Djokovic saves the other one with a ridiculous CC FH when he was fully stretched out on that wing. That was…Del Potro-esque. Deuce #1. Nadal goes for a huge I-O FH, and he misses it by a foot. GP, Djokovic. A 2nd serve SW seals the hold, and avoids the break.
Will that seemingly innocuous hold (in the context of the set) be important in the context of the match? We’ll see.
5-1, Nadal: Rafael goes on the offensive with his deadly CC FH, and goes up 15-0 after a Djokovic forced error. SW, 30-0. Djokovic then plays a near-perfect point, but ends up losing it due to a classic #DjokoSmashFAIL. Triple SP for Nadal. The first one is saved by…Pascal Maria. He assesses Nadal a point penalty due to a second time violation. Thoroughly unnecessary. Still, Djokovic fires a CC BH long, and Nadal takes the set.
Third Set to Rafael Nadal, 6-1.
Here are your 3rd set stats:
Third Set – Novak Djokovic will serve first.
0-0: Djokovic provides the perfect response to a most shambolic set of tennis (I mean, look at the stats above. They’re gory) on his part with a love hold punctuated by an Ace. That was sorely needed.
1-0, Djokovic: The Tennis Channel shows a graph that indicates Nadal has only lost a tennis match twice when up 2 sets to 1…and in both matches were in 2005. 8 years ago. As I type this, Rafael holds at love. It really didn’t take long to type that, either.
1-1: Djokovic fires an Ace for a 30-15 lead. Then the pair play a ridiculous cat-and-mouse point. Djokovic had to hit at least 4 shots at net. Gorgeous tennis, as Djokovic finishes off the point with a beautiful drop volley. Nadal, who rarely does it, applauds the effort. 40-15. The excellence is followed by a miscue: FH CC UFE by Djokovic. 40-30. A gorgeous wide serve seals the much needed hold.
The margin for error for Novak Djokovic has been reduced to zero. Hence, every single of his service games is a must-hold. So far, he’s responding adequately to the task. Because Rafael Nadal can see the finish line, and he’s not giving up anything. It will take a monumental effort by Djokovic to force a fifth set.
2-1, Djokovic: A hilarious bad bounce makes Djokovic whiff completely on a return. 15-0. An UFE by Nadal levels the game at 15. Nadal then goes on a FH rampage, finishing off with the traditional I-O FH. Djokovic mis-times a BH, and Nadal has double GP at 40-15. The Mallorquí only needs one, as he forces an error with a DTL FH.
2-2: A short Nadal return lets Djokovic rip an I-O FH. 30-0. A dropper forces Nadal’s mistake, and it’s 40-0. A SW seals the love hold.
I wonder if Djokovic will be able to use some of the momentum gained by this quick love hold and put pressure on Nadal’s serve. He hasn’t done so since the end of the second set, which seems like it happened ages ago.
3-2, Djokovic: Nadal pulls out a horrible FH UFE to make it 15-all. But he corrects the mistake with his bread-and-butter play: wide serve, CC FH putaway. 30-15. Then, another glorious FH (DTL) makes it 40-15. A FH I-O seals the hold.
So, the momentum went unused, then. Again, Rafael Nadal is not in a giving mood.
3-3: Djokovic puts away a smash and makes it 15-30. He keeps insisting on bombarding Nadal’s AD corner (FH side) with his I-O FH or his CC BH, and he’s getting burned routinely. As I type this, he goes down 15-40 after a FH UFE. Double BP for Nadal. A short BH makes my critique look silly, as Djokovic drills an I-O FH winner. 30-40. And in the most anti-climactic way possible, Djokovic lines up a huge FH off Nadal’s return…and shanks it. Rafael Nadal goes up a break!
That should do it, really. I’m just baffled by Djokovic’s gameplan today. A most bizarre trip back to the past. As if 2011 hadn’t happened. I worry that he’s lost confidence in his BH DTL completely, kind of like how he lost his serve between 2009 and 2010.
@juanjo_sports This match reminds me of the Wimbledon semi against Federer last year. Inexplicable yet somehow unsurprising.
— Matt (@SecondServeHack) June 7, 2013
You know who doesn’t use silly gameplans? Rafael Nadal. In related news, he’s up 2 sets to 1 and a break.
4-3, Nadal: A proper BH DTL by Djokovic triggers a Nadal error. 15-30, and danger for Nadal. The Spaniard leaves a short ball up the middle, and Djokovic punishes it with a CC BH winner. 15-40, and a double chance to break for Djokovic. Wow. A ridiculous return by Djokovic off a wide serve provokes Nadal into going for a BH DTL from well outside the court, and Novak Djokovic gets the break back.
4-4: A FH UFE by Nadal makes it 15-0. Another makes it 30-0. SW, and it’s 40-0. That’s some letdown by Nadal. A simply bizarre FH approach up the middle by Nadal gets him passed after a rushed volley. Djokovic consolidates the break.
I have nothing. This is some letdown by Nadal, who seemed to be well on his way to the Roland Garros final. But he got tight, and surrendered his lead rather meekly. Not sure Djokovic had to do a whole lot to get back on serve.
Me too. RT @juanjo_sports This is the strangest Djokovic-Nadal match I've ever seen.
— Rachel Bird (@TheSportBird) June 7, 2013
Must-hold game for Nadal coming, obviously.
5-4, Djokovic: SW, and it’s 15-o. FH winner off a short return, 30-0. Then, Djokovic plays a fantastic point, but botches a simple dropper horrifically. 40-0. Djokovic once again goes for a huge CC BH, and misses. A much needed love hold for Nadal.
5-5: Djokovic opens this most crucial service game with a 2nd ball FH UFE. 0-15. Djokovic keeps the pedal to the metal, and forces Nadal’s error. 15-all. Huge hitting from Djokovic…that feels far from assuring. You sense that an error can come at any moment. Short FH putaway after a good serve, 30-15. Djokovic hits a poor BH DTL, Nadal pounces, and forces the error. 30-all. Great recognition and execution by Nadal. Then Djokovic blasts an I-O FH winner that Nadal was daring him to make. 40-30. BH DTL UFE, and it’s Deuce #1. Another huge I-O FH winner by Djokovic, and he has GP again. Now Djokovic goes for a huge I-I FH…and misses it badly. Deuce #2. Djokovic bashing the ball rather mindlessly, and finds the net with his FH. BP for Nadal. Djokovic goes for a huge I-O FH, Nadal gets it back, and when Djokovic goes for a big I-I FH…he misses. Rafael Nadal will serve for the set.
Novak Djokovic has descended into ball-bashing madness. He was just crushing the ball as hard as he could, and not even pretending to construct points anymore. Not surprised he missed more shots than he made.
6-5, Nadal: Djokovic again goes for a huge I-O FH, Nadal anticipates it and drills a FH DTL that leads to a short ball he puts away. Then, a simply ridiculous I-O FH winner after a very good return by Djokovic. 30-15. 2nd serve. Nadal goes for a huge I-I FH…and misses it long. 30-all. A simply glorious BH return by Djokovic forces Nadal’s error, and it’s suddenly BP for Djokovic. And he converts it – by playing in the successful way that helped him turn the tide against Nadal in 2011.
Tiebreaker! Novak Djokovic will serve first.
0-0: The pair play an excellent point, and just when Nadal seemed to have a nice look at a pass. he hooks it wide.
1-0, Djokovic: BH UFE by Nadal – MINIBREAK.
2-0, Djokovic: Nadal hits a simply astounding I-O FH winner that barely catches the tape. What a shot. He was milimeters away from going down a double minibreak.
2-1, Djokovic: A fantastic approach by Djokovic ends with a simple volley. Nadal tried to wrong-foot him, but the pass was quite poor. Surprisingly so.
3-1, Djokovic: 2nd serve. Djokovic plays a vintage 2011 point to great success.
4-1, Djokovic: SW by Nadal.
4-2, Djokovic: 2nd serve. BH DTL UFE from Djokovic.
4-3, Djokovic: Enormous I-O FH by Djokovic off a decent return by Nadal. Forced the error.
5-3, Djokovic: Djokovic unloads on a DTL FH off a decent return, and then puts away a smash off the bounce. Triple set point for the World No. 1. Somehow.
6-3, Djokovic: Djokovic comes up with an absolutely glorious volley. MINIBREAK and the set.
Fourth set to Novak Djokovic, 7-6 (3).
Here are your fourth set stats:
Fifth Set – Rafael Nadal Will Serve First.
0-0: A FH UFE by Nadal is followed by a DF. 0-30, and a FH DTL return winner makes it 0-40. Triple Break Point for Djokovic. SW saves the first. The pair play a brutal point, in which Djokovic made a tactical mistake by going to Nadal’s FH with a short BH, and ends up getting burned. 30-40. Djokovic approaches on Nadal’s FH, and the pass finds the net. Djokovic is up a break!
1-0, Djokovic: A BH DTL UFE by Djokovic makes it 30-all. Then…disaster strikes for Djokovic, who was standing inside the service line and screwed up not one, but 2 smashes. One was straight at Nadal, one was long. BP for Nadal. It’s saved by a nifty BH DTL dropper and a great CC BH pass. SW, and it’s GP. Then, a blistering FH DTL by Nadal makes it Deuce #2. Djokovic then executes a BH DTL correctly, and it’s GP again. Then, simply blissful tennis by Djokovic, who carves out Nadal’s BH corner, then yanks him wide to the FH side. The break has been consolidated.
2-0, Djokovic: Nadal quickly goes up 30-0. But a FH DTL return winner makes it 30-15. Djokovic tries to do the same off a good body serve by Nadal, and nets the return. However, a hard return forces an error from Nadal. 40-30. However, a SW stops the bleeding for Nadal, who had lost 3 straight games plus a TB.
2-1, Djokovic: Djokovic DFs, and it’s 30-all. Cheap BH slice UFE by Nadal, and it’s GP. That’s one costly mistake. SW, and Djokovic holds.
3-1, Djokovic: Nadal puts away a smash, and it’s 15-all. Then, a very cheap BH UFE by Djokovic. 30-15. Nadal DFs, and it’s 30-all. Then….what…a…shot. Nadal fires a CC BH winner from well outside the doubles alley. An insane, insane, shot. 40-30. But that’s followed by a BH error off a good return by Djokovic. Deuce #1. Nadal digs deep, and forces Djokovic’s error. AD-Nadal. Nadal has a look at one of his favorite mid-court FHs…but shanks it wide. Deuce #2. Nadal digs deeper, and unloads on a BH DTL (!!!). What an insane shot. GP Nadal. And then Nadal handles Djokovic’s missiles adeptly, and fires away another great BH winner.
That game…felt like it was bigger than a simple game. Those 3 BHs that Nadal hit, at 30-all, Deuce #2 and to hold were simply immense. Djokovic might rue that silly BH UFE at 15-30.
3-2, Djokovic: Huge I-O FH from Djokovic draws the error. 15-0. Then, a failed dropper by Nadal makes it 30-0. Huge FH DTL by Djokovic, and it’s 40-0. Thunderous shot. FH UFE by Nadal, and Djokovic comes up with a very, very impressive love hold.
4-2, Djokovic: A fantastic I-O FH winner by Nadal makes it 15-0. And a ridiculous FH DTL after a good, angled CC BH return by Djokovic makes it 30-0. 2nd serve. Djokovic responds with a FH DTL winner of his own. A good I-O FH by Nadal forces Djokovic’s error, and it’s 40-15. Another great return is handled magnificently by Nadal, and it’s a straightforward hold.
It feels like we’re in for another plot twist, no? It seems weird to think that we’ll simply march along to the finish line.
4-3, Djokovic: We start off with a Djokovic BH UFE. Then, an ill-advised I-O FH gives Nadal a chance to drill a FH DTL for a clean winner. 0-30. 2nd serve SW, 15-30. Bad miss by Nadal, but the wind seemed to get in his way. A hard CC BH by Djokovic ends up drawing Nadal’s error, and it’s 30-all. Then…magic from Nadal. A FH DTL that barely catches the edge of the sideline. BP for Nadal. 2nd serve. Then…Nadal hooks a FH wildly. He screams in frustration. Deuce #1. Then…heartbreak for Djokovic, who comes to net to put away a simple smash…but loses his balance and falls into the net before the ball bounces twice. 2nd serve, BP again. It’s saved by some more forceful hitting into Nadal’s FH corner. Deuce #2. Then, Nadal somehow crushes a CC BH on the run, and catches the sideline. BP AGAIN. And now….Djokovic drills an I-I FH into the net. Nadal gets the break back!
And the plot twist comes.
4-4: Nadal starts by missing a FH badly. Djokovic reciprocates with a BH miscue of his own. 15-all. Nadal then somehow triggers a Djokovic BH UFE via a tame BH slice. That was weird. 30-15. Then, a blistering FH DTL by Nadal off a mediocre CC BH by Djokovic. 40-15. Djokovic then drills a 2nd serve return…but it barely misses the baseline.
That hold was beyond crucial, obviously.
5-4, Nadal: We miss the first point because Tennis Channel was busy showing a Perrier commercial. Djokovic then fires an I-O FH winner, and it’s 30-0. The Serb then fires a BH up the middle and misses by at least 10 feet. 30-15. Then, the funniest point of the match. Djokovic goes for a huge I-O FH, Nadal anticipates it…but shanks it. Regardless, the ball floats up in the air and lands….in. 30-all. Djokovic then regroups by drilling Nadal’s BH corner and forcing the error. 40-30. The hold comes after some incredible shots by Djokovic.
5-5: Nadal wrong-foots Djokovic with his FH, and it’s 15-0. A great return up the middle, and it’s 15-all. Nadal pummels an I-O FH off a return, and it’s 30-15. BH UFE by Djokovic, 40-15. Ace out wide seals the hold.
For the second time in a row, Novak Djokovic will serve to stay in the tournament. I can’t imagine what these guys are going through right now. Physically and mentally. I’m completely fried, and I’m just someone typing here.
6-5, Nadal: In a blink of an eye, Djokovic is up 40-0. Do these guys know there’s no fifth set breaker? A dropper winner seals the hold.
Is there anything left to say? I have no idea.
6-6: Nadal opens his game with 2 ridiculous winners. First a running FH pass that still seems incomprehensible, then a BH DTL missile. A BH DTL UFE follows – barely missed the sideline. 30-15. Then, Djokovic nets a meek 2nd serve return. A bad miss. 40-15. Djokovic swings violently at a return, misses.
That first shot of the game…look it up. Simply insane.
7-6, Nadal: Two ridiculous points, one shot and one long, leave us at 30-0. Two crazy shots later, and it’s 40-15. Then, an epic #DjokoSmashFAIL. Off a Nadal lob-tweener. However, Djokovic survives the horrific smash fail by drilling a BH DTL to hold.
This match might never end.
7-7: 15-all after Djokovic narrowly misses a hard CC BH. SW makes it 30-15. Rinse and repeat for 40-15. A wrong-footing BH seals the hold for Nadal.
This match has been such a strange ride. The first set seems like it was played yesterday. The third? Seems like it didn’t even happen. Heck, the initial breaks at the beginning of this set seem like a distant memory. Tennis stretching the seams of reality.
8-7, Nadal: Djokovic starts his service game with another #DjokoSmashFAIL. He then gets passed by Nadal’s fabulous CC BH pass…and he had play on the shot. Wild FH UFE, and it’s triple match point for Nadal. He converts as the first one, Djokovic blasts a 2nd ball FH well long.
Djokovic seemed to be arguing late in that set about the court getting watered. It appears that the court didn’t get any water in the fifth. Regardless, the botched overhead to start that last game sent him into the fatal tailspin.
Game, Set and Match to Rafael Nadal, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7.
Here are your full match stats:
You’ll excuse me if I tell you that this match has left me drained for words. At some point I’ll gather my thoughts about it, but I don’t think it’ll be for another few days, at least.
All I’ll say is that it was the strangest Djokovic-Nadal match I’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen 34 out of the 35 they’ve played.
Huge respect goes out to both men, as they left everything out there, and managed to dazzle for the best part of a deciding set.
That is all.
(P.S: I ended up writing my extended Final Thoughts later that same day. You can read them here)