Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match-up is the 34th time Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal meet in an official tennis match. This will also be the third time the men meet in the Monte Carlo final.
Interestingly enough, both men have faced their fair share of struggles on their way to the final. Novak Djokovic’s issues began almost two weeks ago, when he suffered a pretty horrific ankle twist during his Davis Cup tie-clinching win over Sam Querrey. Doubts circled around the World Number One’s participation in Monte Carlo all the way until his opening match against Mikhail Youzhny last Wednesday. Djokovic managed to find a way to win that match after dropping the first set, something the Serb had to do again in his next match against Juan Mónaco. How shaky was Djokovic during those two matches? Plenty of people gave Jarkko Nieminen more than a fighting chance to pull the huge upset in the quarterfinals. However, the World Number One’s play improved significantly after the Mónaco match, and he hasn’t dropped a set in his two subsequent matches.
Rafael Nadal was his dominant self during his first two outings at the Monte Carlo Country Club, in which he lost a grand total of nine games combined against Matosevic and Kohlschreiber. However, the surprise came in the quarterfinals, as the 8-time Monte Carlo champ found himself tied at 4 games in the third set with Grigor Dimitrov. The young Bulgarian started to cramp, and that was enough of an opportunity for Nadal to take the last two games of the match and end the unexpected scare (as a bit of trivia, Nadal and Dimitrov ended up winning the exact same number of points in their encounter). In the semifinals, Nadal seemed to be poised to clinch a 3 and 1 demolition of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The Spaniard served at 5-1 in the second set, but had to watch as his lead evaporated in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Nadal was eventually forced into a second set tiebreaker, which he ended up taking. Thus ended Tsonga’s entertaining comeback bid.
As I mentioned above, this will be the thirty-fourth meeting between these two men, which is a truly remarkable number. No other active players share such a lengthy joint history, and let’s not forget that we’re taking about two guys who are in their mid-twenties. Their extensive head-to-head, which Rafael Nadal leads 19 to 14, looks like this:
Here are a few noteworthy facts about this most storied rivalry:
– Today’s final will mark the 11th consecutive time that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal battle it out for a trophy. In fact, 12 out of their last 13 matches have been finals, which is remarkable (Djokovic has won 7 out of the past 10 finals between them). Overall, Djokovic and Nadal have played 14 finals since their rivalry started in 2006. Of those, 7 have been played on clay, and Nadal has won 5 of them.
– Djokovic and Nadal have been involved in 9 Masters 1000 finals (Nadal has won 5 out of the 9). Of those, 6 have been on clay (twice in Monte Carlo, three times in Rome, and once in Madrid), and Nadal has won 4 of them (both Monte Carlo finals, and two of the three Rome finals).
– The Spaniard and the Serb have played 14 times on clay, with Nadal holding an overwhelming 12 to 2 edge. In fact, Nadal won the first nine times the men faced off on a clay court. It was only in 2011 that Djokovic managed to beat his main rival on his preferred surface – and he managed to do it twice. On consecutive weekends, no less (the 2011 Madrid and Rome finals).
– Novak Djokovic remains the only man to beat Nadal in consecutive clay finals, and the only man to take four straight sets of tennis from the Spaniard. However, Djokovic has never beaten Nadal in Monte Carlo (0 for 2) or at the French Open (0 for 4).
Finally, Rafael Nadal will attempt to become the first man in the Open Era to win a title 9 times. If Nadal were to win tomorrow’s match, he would not only win a title 9 times, but 9 consecutive times (and let’s not forget that this is a Masters 1000!).
This would be (and 8 in a row already is) a simply staggering achievement. One that we probably won’t witness again in our lifetimes.
Three Things to Pay Attention To:
1. What will the conditions be during this match? This is a most crucial point: if it’s sunny and warm, Nadal will be delighted, since the ball will travel faster and the clay will enhance the spin and kick of his shots. If it’s cold and muggy, Djokovic will be the happier man, as he will have more time to defend Nadal’s attacks, the ball will land closer to his strike zone, and he will find it easier to boss the baseline.
2. Can Djokovic find Nadal’s backhand? This was the key element in the 7 straight matches Novak took from Rafael during that unbelievable stretch in 2011-2012: the Serb was able to force Nadal to hit way more backhands than the Spaniard would like, and short balls were inevitably punished. However, Nadal turned the tables on Djokovic last year, by finding ways to hit better backhands, and then going on the attack with his forehand before the unfavorable pattern would reappear. It worked, since Nadal won all three of their 2012 meetings (all on clay, too).
3. Can Nadal find ways to get easy points with his serve? A key to Nadal’s dominance on this surface is the ease with which he can hold serve without having to exert that much effort. That allows Nadal to focus on his opponent’s service games and turn them into a living hell. Novak Djokovic is regarded as the best returner on planet Earth, so getting easy service points should be tricky for the Spaniard. On the other hand, Nadal becomes an elite returner on clay, so Djokovic will have to face similar pressure. Whoever finds ways to hold serve with minimum effort will have a huge edge today.
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
UFE: Unforced Error
The men are on court, so we should be starting soon!
In terms of the weather, Nick Lester just said that it’s drizzling in Monte Carlo right now, and it looks indeed look quite gloomy. These are the type of conditions that favor the World Number One, most definitely.
Regardless, let’s hope that we don’t have rain delays. Nobody likes those. And as I type this…we have a rain delay just as the warm-up had finished. The players are back in the locker room, and the tarp is out.
Sunshine out now in Monte Carlo, the covers coming off. We should be starting in 20 minutes
— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) April 21, 2013
If Neil tweets it, then it must be true!
Amazingly, this is what Monte Carlo looks like right now, just 40 minutes after the delay:
Of course, the sunny conditions definitely favor Nadal, particularly as the match wears on and the court continues to dry up.
First Set – Novak Djokovic Will Serve First.
0:0: Djokovic opens the match with a great DTL FH that forces Nadal’s error. 15-0. That’s followed up by a CC BH winner. Nadal responds with a great CC BH of his own, but a Djokovic service winner makes it 40-15. Djokovic seals the opening hold with an Ace up the middle.
A pretty fantastic start to this final by Novak Djokovic. Seems like we might be in for a good one.
1:0, Djokovic: The first extended rally of the match ends with a Djokovic BH DTL that finds the net. 15-0. That is followed by Nadal’s first DF of the match. Moments later it’s 30-all after a Nadal BH that can’t quite get over the net. Nadal gets a chance to hold after another BH DTL that ends up in the net for Djokovic. The men then play a fun point that sees Djokovic once again use his DTL FH to great effect – it forces Nadal’s error. We reach Deuce, but it’s AD Nadal after the pair trade huge blows and a Djokovic BH sails long. The Serb then gets lucky with a return that clips the net and dies on Nadal’s side of the court, but Nadal gets another game point when he comes to net after a very good FH CC approach. But it’s Deuce #3 after Nadal sends a BH into the net. UFE. Now it’s BP #1 for Djokovic as Nadal sends another regulation BH long. And Nadal sends another BH well long after Djokovic hit a very good BH DTL slice that barely clipped the sideline. Djokovic gets the early break!
This is the dynamic that doesn’t favor Nadal: having to hit this many backhands. Worse than that, of course, is making 3 straight BH UFEs to get broken.
2:0, Djokovic: It’s 30 all after Djokovic blasts a FH long. Nadal had hit a wonderful FH DTL in the previous point. Djokovic will have a GP after Nadal commits yet another BH UFE. However, it’s Deuce #1 after Djokovic sends an angled CC FH into the net. UFE. And then, another blistering FH DTL by Djokovic draws Nadal’s error. That was a wonderful shot. AD Djokovic, and the Serb consolidates the break after another brutal all-court rally that ends with yet another Nadal BH UFE.
Sam Gore, who is courtside, says the court is playing slower than he thought, giving Djokovic more time to set up for his aggressive shots, as well as allowing the World Number One to defend Nadal’s FHs more comfortably.
3:0, Djokovic: A slew of fantastic FHs by Nadal sees him go up 30-0. That’s his recipe for success: be as aggressive as possible and don’t let Djokovic tie him up in his BH corner. Sadly, that good play is followed by DF #2. Nadal gets unlucky with a counter-drop that clips the net and gives Djokovic all the time in the world, and then Djokovic comes up with a fantastic CC BH winner to set up another chance to break. Which he does, after Nadal sends a BH DTL into the net. UFE, and Djokovic is up a double break!
The World Number One is in sensational form. He’s not gifting Nadal any kind of easy points on his service games, and has already drawn 7 BH UFEs from Nadal.
4:0, Djokovic: Djokovic serves and volleys to great effect to reach 30-15. Another good FH DTL triggers a Nadal error for 40-15, and an Ace seals the hold.
Djokovic is flying high.
— Patrick Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) April 21, 2013
Interestingly enough, there isn’t a single bagel in the 34 matches these two gentlemen have played against each other. Which is fascinating. Plenty of breadsticks, though.
5:0, Djokovic: After a blistering BH DTL winner by Djokovic to go up 0-15, we see a graph that says that the Serb has won 25 points in the set, and Nadal has just won 12. That’s followed by another blistering Djokovic winner, this time of the FH DTL variety. Nadal then comes up with an utterly fantastic I-O FH winner that barely clips the sideline. 15-30. Then, a gorgeous FH dropper by Djokovic to set up double-SP. Also, double bagel point. Nadal saves the first with two fantastic FHs that draw Djokovic’s error. And then a good serve into Djokovic’s body saves the other one. Then, Djokovic plays unbelievable defense, digging a CC BH after a great BH DTL by Nadal to force the Spaniard’s error. SP #3 is saved by another great serve, this time of the lefty slider kind. Deuce #2. But then, another BH UFE by Nadal. SP #4. Another fantastic lefty slider service winner, and it’s Deuce #3. And another fantastic CC BH winner by Djokovic sets up SP #5. That was a 143 km/h BH. But the serve comes to the rescue once again for Nadal: his trusty up the T delivery sends us to Deuce #4. Nadal finally gets a GP after a great CC FH approach and an easy volley. Nadal finally holds after Djokovic goes for a CC BH winner, but barely misses.
That was one key game – Nadal got easy points off his serve for the first time in the match, and all of them came on pressure moments. That will surely help the Spaniard’s confidence.
5:1, Djokovic: Nadal continues the good run of form with a CC BH winner. 0-15. Djokovic then puts a smash away for 15-all. Djokovic then misses a volley, and it’s 15-30. Had plenty of time to set up for that one. Djokovic comes to net again, and the result is the same: a missed volley. 15-40. Rafael Nadal is not in the giving mood anymore: he’s hardly made a mistake in the past few points. Djokovic buries a FH DTL into the net, and Nadal gets one of the breaks back!
It seems like Nadal has weathered the Djokovic storm, digging deep to save all those set points in the sixth game. Djokovic then came down to earth with a very erratic game: more than a few UFEs sealed his fate in that one. Lucky for him that he built this big lead.
5:2, Djokovic: Nadal starts by sending a BH long. That’s followed by a spectacular point in which Djokovic thought he had Nadal pinned to the BH corner, but a great Nadal CC BH opens up the court, and the Spaniard finishes with an I-I FH winner. A service winner makes it 30-15. Then, a fantastic return up the middle forces Nadal’s error. 30-all. Djokovic then draws another error from Nadal’s BH, and he has a sixth SP. It is saved by a huge Nadal serve up the T, followed by enormous FHs. Deuce #1. Nadal goes for a big second-ball I-O FH…and misses. SP #7 for Djokovic, all of them on Nadal’s serve. Nadal hit the worst serve of these past few games…but Djokovic botched the return anyway. Deuce #2. An unbelievably good CC BH triggers a very short ball that Djokovic does not mess with. SP #8. This is getting ridiculous. And would you believe it…the set ends with a Nadal DF.
That….was wildly unexpected.
First Set to Novak Djokovic, 6-2.
Here are your first set stats:
Second Set – Novak Djokovic Will Serve First
0:0: Djokovic holds to 15 with some of the same good play that saw him take that first set so convincingly.
This graph is fascinating, and it illustrates just how great your backhand has to be to deal with Nadal on this surface (if you’re a righty, that is):
1:0, Djokovic: Nadal races to a 40-0 lead. He holds to love after forcing a Djokovic BH error, sealing what has to be the easiest service game he’s had by far.
— TennisTV (@TennisTV) April 21, 2013
1:1: A brutal rally ends with a Djokovic mishit that looked awfully tired. 15-30. And then Nadal takes advantage of another Djokovic foray into the net, hits a great pass, and puts away the easy FH after a floater volley by Djokovic. Nadal will have 2 chances to break serve. The first is saved by an absolutely gorgeous slider out wide by Djokovic. An absolutely magnificent serve. 30-40. The men play a fantastic point, and Nadal thought he had a look at a FH DTL winner, but sent it into the net. It was a pretty low ball, though: Djokovic’s CC BH had been very flat. Then, Djokovic triggers another Nadal BH UFE – the Serb played unbelievable defense to stay in that point. A service winner seals the hold for Djokovic.
That might prove to be a huge game. Nadal seemed to have the momentum, and going down an early break to Nadal just as you’ve taken a set off him is never a good idea. The World Number One dug deep, and reaped the rewards.
Did anyone mentioned that #Rafa is not sliding when he runs to the forehand. Many small steps when he gets to the ball like on hard court..
— Patrick Mouratoglou (@pmouratoglou) April 21, 2013
That’s a fascinating observation – one that I had missed. This is definitely something to pay attention to.
STATS UPDATE: Nadal has committed 13 BH UFEs so far. As a comparison, Nadal only has 4 FH UFEs. Djokovic has 10 UFEs…total. Also noteworthy: Djokovic has a 5 point edge in Baseline Points, and both men have fared well at net: Djokovic is 5 of 8, and Nadal is 3 of 5 there.
2:1, Djokovic: Nadal comes up with a straightforward hold to 15 after a FH barely clips the baseline. A service winner seals it.
2:2: Djokovic nets a CC FH, and it’s 15-30. Then, an I-O FH putaway ends up in the net, too. 15-40 after two cheap errors off the FH wing for the Serb. Djokovic attacks a Nadal DTL slice with a fierce CC BH, and Nadal can’t find a way to get his FH DTL over the net. 30-40. Djokovic then has a look at a BH DTL…and misses wide. 3 UFEs for the World Number One in that game, and Nadal goes up a break!
As Nick Lester just said, Djokovic is looking a little weary out there. The men have played a brutal match so far: there have been plenty of lengthy rallies, and these two don’t pull any punches.
It’s just fascinating how Nadal can keep his drive going even after such a disappointing end to the first set. So strong mentally, the 8-time Monte Carlo champion.
3:2, Nadal: Nadal starts with yet another BH UFE, but then attacks the net after a good FH CC approach. 15-all. That is followed by a bad I-I FH UFE. But it’s 30-all after a fantastic I-O FH winner by Nadal. Djokovic then makes a crucial mistake, approaching the net with an I-O FH, leaving a huge target for Nadal to hit. The Spaniard doesn’t miss, and he has GP. But Djokovic sends a beauty of a BH DTL return, forces the error, and brings ups to Deuce #1. Then, a fantastic wide ace by Nadal – that’s a serve he rarely hits from the Deuce court. That is followed by a fantastic body serve that jams Djokovic completely. The break has been consolidated.
nadal won 53% of 1st srvs in 1st set, so far 84% in 2nd #improvement
— tennistweets.com (@tennistweetscom) April 21, 2013
Nadal is once again getting easy points off some great serves. As I wrote above, this kind of thing is quite crucial in this match.
4:2, Nadal: Djokovic clinches an emphatic love hold after Nadal badly mishits a return that didn’t look all that complicated. There were some blistering winners before that.
4:3, Nadal: Nadal goes down 0-15 again after a bad BH slice UFE. Then, a beauty of a point by Djokovic as he hits a gorgeous volley to set up a stretch put-away. 0-30. He’s won 6 points in a row against Nadal – something that apparently nobody has done this week, per Nick Lester. The streak is stopped by a nice wide serve by Nadal. Then, another Nadal BH UFE, this time on a CC attempt. 15-40, and Djokovic has his first chances to break serve in this second set. And the break comes after Djokovic grinds down Nadal’s BH until it cracks. Novak Djokovic gets the break back!
4:4: Djokovic doesn’t move his feet to hit a BH DTL, and misses it wide. 15-all. Then, an absolutely fantastic angled FH by Djokovic renders Nadal helpless. What a shot. But Nadal goes on the attack with his I-O FH, to make it 30-all. Then, the successful wide serve + DTL FH combo by Djokovic gives him GP. Then Nadal completely outmaneuvers Djokovic, has a simple smash at net…but buries it there. Djokovic with a supremely key hold.
5:4, Djokovic: Nadal hits the kind of BHs that are needed against a rival like Djokovic: a great CC + DTL combo affords him an easy smash. 15-0. Then a fantastic FH DTL by Nadal. 30-0. Djokovic gets a miraculous return in play (it had been a bad bounce), and then attacks with his CC BH, drawing a Nadal error. 30-15. Djokovic then gets a look at a BH DTL…and misses it wide. Lets out a groan full of despair afterwards. 40-15. Djokovic then comes up with an insane BH volley. 40-30. Djokovic concedes the hold after dumping a 2nd serve return in the net. A potentially costly miss.
5:5: Nadal with incredible FH defense, and then blasts a CC FH winner. 0-15. Nadal gets another look at a dangerous FH…but nets it. 15-all. After a cagey point in which Nadal sliced and diced, the Spaniard gets a look at a FH DTL, and forces Djokovic’s error. 15-30. Djokovic then gets a look at a BH DTL putaway…and sends it wide. He’s complaining that Nadal framed the return. Then, after a brutal rally, Djokovic once again sends a BH DTL wide. Rafael Nadal gets the break and will serve for the set!
Fantastic play by Nadal, but the World Number One will rue all those missed BHs DTL in the last few games. His favorite shot has let him down at the worst possible time.
6:5, Nadal: Djokovic starts with a thundering FH winner, and then Nadal commits a cheap 2nd ball FH error. 0-30. Djokovic then opens the court masterfully with a FH DTL, and puts away a CC FH winner to set up 0-40. It will be on a second serve. And Djokovic breaks after Nadal goes for an ill-advised I-I that leaves the entire AD court wide open. Djokovic sends a BH CC that way, and Djokovic has broken to force a tiebreak!
Tiebreak! Novak Djokovic Will Serve First
0:0: Djokovic starts with a service winner.
1:0, Djokovic: Nadal makes a FH UFE, sending a regulation stroke long. MINIBREAK.
2:0, Djokovic: Nadal gets a great I-O FH in, Djokovic loses his balance, and the Spaniard gets on the board.
2:1, Djokovic: Djokovic attacks Nadal’s BH wisely with his angled FH, and it pays off.
3:1, Djokovic: Nadal again goes for a huge FH…and sends it long. Bad UFE.
4:1, Djokovic: Yet another FH UFE by Nadal…from a mid-court ball. MINIBREAK.
Nadal’s BH was the one leaking errors in this match. But in this breaker, it’s been the FH that has done the damage. Out of nowhere.
5:1, Djokovic: Djokovic comes up with a gorgeous DTL FH return, triggers the error, and will have 5 championship points. MINIBREAK.
6:1, Djokovic: And Novak Djokovic finishes with a FH winner. Unbelievable performance by the World Number One.
This is what this win feels like:
Game, Set and Match to Novak Djokovic, 6-2, 7-6(1)
Here are your full match stats:
For someone who has been following tennis in the last decade, seeing someone other than Rafael Nadal lift the Monte Carlo trophy has to feel a little surreal, no? One of the great streaks the game has ever seen – Nadal’s run of 8 consecutive Monte Carlo titles – will undoubtedly gain more and more renown and respect as the days, months, and years go by. Nadal had won this prestigious and historic event 4 times when it was a mandatory Masters 1000 (not that this superfluous technicality has diluted the fields since 2009), twice when the final was a best-of-five affair, and twice when a player had to beat six opponents instead of five in order to lift the trophy.
Nadal has also won the event four times without dropping a set.
Unfortunately for the greatest clay-courter of all time, all things must come to an end. Today Rafael Nadal faced a fearless and superb Novak Djokovic, who has been the second best clay court player for a few years now (at least since 2011). And the imperious Serb played the final he would’ve loved to play last year, when his run was derailed by the sudden death of his beloved grandfather during the tournament.
Djokovic’s run to the Monte Carlo final wasn’t a walk in the park this year, either. We remember Novak’s awful ankle twist during the early goings of the vital fourth rubber between the United States and Serbia. It’s amazing that the injury happened just 2 weeks ago, and Djokovic not only hanged on to win that vital rubber, but then managed to earn his first ever Monte Carlo title today. This is an unbelievable sequence, really – an ankle twist like the one he suffered in Boise has sidelined numerous basketball players for way more than a week and a half.
Djokovic found ways to get past his first two matches in Monte Carlo. Once those early roadblocks were cleared, his ankle returned to full fitness, allowing for his clay court prowess to be displayed in full. Novak breezed through the quarters and the semis, and was truly the form player heading into today’s match.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, showed unexpected frailty in his quarterfinal match against Grigor Dimitrov. A trend started in that third set that appeared again during today’s match: Nadal’s backhand started to leak errors, and the Spaniard had to work twice as hard to hide that weakness.
Alas, today Nadal faced a much tougher rival – one that didn’t start cramping in crunch time.
Rafael had to feel like he was transported back to 2011 during this final. Novak Djokovic executed all the things he did so well in that glorious year for the Serb: finding Nadal’s backhand at will, punishing every short ball, returning at an incredibly high level, and defending at a Nadal-esque level.
On that last point: watching Djokovic defend Nadal’s blows on clay is simply breathtaking. Nobody has defended Nadal quite this way before: most opponents end up pummeled into the ground without having a chance to get back into a point. But just as Nadal does to others, Djokovic does to him: an elite defensive shot resets the point, and all the good work done by Nadal ends up without reward.
Djokovic used his angled forehand masterfully today. With that spinny shot the Serb was able to pin Nadal in areas of the court where the Spaniard could’t run around his backhand. That’s a shot that Djokovic doesn’t use nearly as often on hard courts, because it usually falls into an opponent’s forehand, and the extra spin gives a right-hander ample time to fire a down the line winner. But on clay against Nadal it’s a fantastic shot, because Rafael can’t really go down the line with the kind of precision, pace and consistency that is needed to punish that shot.
Naturally, we can’t forget that Djokovic used his excellent backhand down the line frequently and successfully (it faltered for a few games in the second set, but regained its composure near the end), as the great graph from TennisTV above illustrates.
While on the subject, I’m not sure there’s any player out there who can do what Djokovic did with his backhand today (hitting around half his shots down the line, as well as firing winners in all directions). Performances like today make it difficult to pick against Novak’s two-hander as the best in the world.
Regardless, the paragraphs above illustrates why Nadal is forced into thinking that the only way out of that Deuce court jam is to hit great cross-court backhands, or great down the line backhands. The 11-time Grand Slam champion can surely do that, but today he was just not sharp enough to do it on a consistent basis. The 21 backhand unforced errors (which represent 60% of his total unforced errors for the match) say as much.
Djokovic was also excellent at taking his opportunities and attacking Nadal’s forehand corner in the Ad court, both with his excellent sharp-angled cross-court backhand as well as with his down the line forehand. Djokovic resisted using his inside-out forehand as a main weapon, and it was a sound decision: if you hit an inside-out forehand against Nadal, it better be an outstanding shot. Otherwise, the Spaniard will find a way to re-direct it down the line into a wide open Deuce court with his own forehand.
The now 14-time M1000 champion put together yet another excellent returning performance: Djokovic limited Nadal to just 55% points won on the Spaniard’s first serve, and a measly 37% of points played on his second serve.
In sharp contrast, Novak had an outstanding performance on serve: he hit 62% first serves, won 63% of points played on his 1st serve (that’s actually a good number when you face Nadal on clay), and most importantly, the Serb was able to win 61% of points played on his second serve. The World Number One also had an exceptional day at net, winning 7 of 11 points played in those circumstances (again, this is a nice number when you consider Nadal was the one hitting passing shots).
Still, it’s worth remembering that even though Djokovic put together such fantastic numbers, he found himself on the verge of being pushed to a third set as Rafael Nadal served for the second at 6-5. Let’s also acknowledge that Rafael Nadal never really reached the heights of other years (though he did come alive at the beginning of the second set).
The point I’m trying to make is simple: Djokovic had to play at an incredibly high level to take today’s final. He was superb tactically, and found a way to overcome a few dips in form in the second set. And all of that was absolutely needed, since the margin for error against Rafael Nadal on this surface (and at this tournament) is very, very small.
Thus the clay season has gotten off to a rousing, albeit, unexpected start. But the good news is that the two best clay courters in the world are ready to treat us to more excellence on the terre battue: there were quite a few passages today that were breathtaking clay tennis.
With two more M1000s to go and the French Open, one can only wonder just how many more great matches they’ll gift us in the coming months.