Home > Opinion, Tennis, U. S. Open > Novak Djokovic: Completing the Domination

Novak Djokovic: Completing the Domination

Feeling of Invincibility

Feeling of Invincibility

It is no secret that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are the two greatest players of this era and rank at or near the top in the list of all time. It is not difficult to see how Andy Roddick would have won multiple Wimbledon titles, or Andy Murray would have ended the British drought if it were not for these two men. Novak Djokovic himself struggled to compete against the two for a while and has gradually improved himself to the point where he is almost unbeatable against the two — well, everybody. Look at how he monumentally increased his performance at majors this year. First, he beat the defending champion, Federer, in Melbourne. Then he beat Nadal, again the defending champion, at Wimbledon. To top it off he beat both, Federer and Nadal, at New York.

I have mentioned many times that the Miami finals this year was the turning point in the rivalry. Actually, the trivalry. He beat Nadal at his own game — by outgassing him in the final set tie-breaker. Even after beating Nadal four times in the Masters, we still thought that is a different task to take three sets off Nadal in a major final (Nadal had lost just two major finals before this year). He did that at Wimbledon. Today, he completed his dominance over Nadal.

A scoreline of 6-2 6-4 6-7 6-1 loos like a routine four set win, completed somewhere around 3 hours. It was anything but. The actual time of this match was north of four hours spanned over 268 points. Most of those 268 points were contested in brutal, physical rallies of the highest magnitude, ones which we have rarely seen. Each point had to be won two, three or four times. One of these games lasted 17 minutes and rarely was there a game not going to deuce. They battled from the baseline, came to the net to hit volleys, were lobbed and had to scramble back to start the point over …. I can go on. The physicality of this four set match was even more than most of the five set epics that Rafa has played in his career.

In the past, Rafa had made a career on outlasting his opponents. After magically winning the tie-breaker with his extreme fighting ability, he had finally turned this match into a physical battle. Djokovic called for the trainer and did not hit a first serve above 100mph thereafter. Everybody thought Rafa would take the match in five. Except Rafa, that is. Because he used his entire fuel tank to bring cramps on his gulten-free opponent. When Djokovic hit the final forehand winner, Nadal did not make an attempt to reach for it. The tireless opponent was also robbed off every ounce of mental energy by then to fight any longer.

What a difference a year makes. What changed? Nadal said, “less mistakes.” Federer said the same. Djokovic called the change in his “attitude.” But one feels it is more than that. Nadal was broken just five times last year but Djokovic broke him 11 times today. The latter has taken the return of the serve to an entirely new level. Everybody, including Djokovic, felt that he was lucky on the return winner down 15-40 to Federer, but he showed today that it was not

Solutions? Still Looking ....

Solutions? Still Looking ....

mere luck. When Nadal’s signature serves wide from the ad court are blasted for return winners, you know you are witnessing something special. It might not be an overstatement to say that Djokovic did a great job “holding” his return of serve. The most scary statistic: Nadal lost every second point on his first serve. And this was when Nadal was not playing bad himself. He broke Djokovic six times in the first three sets and saved 15 break points. Even though his backhand was no match against Djokovic, he kept himself alive in rallies using great combination of slices, forehands and change of pace. He fought from the deepest hole when Djokovic was serving for the match in the third to extend it for another set.

In the end he kept everything in perspective during the press interview by saying he is closer to finding the solution than he was at Wimbledon. Which he is, considering he kept the scoreline same on his worst surface (hard courts) compared to Djokovic’s worst (grass). Djokovic, on the other hand, is still trying to come back to earth. When asked about his accomplishments this year he rightly said it will take time to realize what he has done. For him, as well as for us. 66-2 and counting …

  1. Rob
    Sep 13, 2011 at 2:54 AM

    When you talk about the brutally contested rallies, it makes me wonder how long either of these guys can keep playing like this. Will they suffer destablizing injuries later on? Of course, we’ve been talking about Nadal having a “short” career for years now and he’s still out there, so maybe they’ll be okay.

    Nadal needed that third set. What we know about him, what we’ve seen, is that he keeps trying and waits for a breakthrough. In early 2008 and 2010 he was consistently reaching latter rounds of events but not winning them. It turned to clay and he dominated.

    He struggled at the US Open, but gradually started reaching the semis consistently, and now he’s regularly in the finals. He just needs to find that missing ingredient, and that’s what he’ll spend the offseason doing. 2012 should be a good season.

    Thanks for giving us so much to think about, Rajat.

    • rjsays
      Sep 14, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      If not now, this extreme physicality will probably affect once they retire, maybe, although can’t say anything with these players. In the 90s, it was easier on players ‘coz the grass specialists were not exerted that much during clay season and vice versa. It is different now.

      I guess confidence is the main thing lacking in Nadal right now. I was watching last yr’s USO and his backhand was extremely good and flat in that final. It took him the third set to find a part of that backhand this year.

  2. Sep 13, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    I’m surprised no one much talked about juicing. Gluten? Really? That’s the worst “cover” for drugs ever!

    Novak probably has the record among GS winners for pulling out of Grand Slams. Allergies. A Cold… Wheezing in a three setter…

    Now he routinely outgrinds and tires out Rafa because he doesn’t use Gluten anymore? That made him more fit than the freak of nature, once in a lifetime, fit monster by the name of Rafa? A fitness turnaround in what seems overnight. It’s just not believable.

    I once saw a French show with Fabrice Santoro who described some guys who’d do a few months training and come back playing with three lungs and gaining inches on their arms. That simply doesn’t happen naturally and obviously they are juiced.

    Not saying this as an attack on Nole. Probably Rafa’s juiced and Roger and 99% of the others. And I’m not blaming the athletes. If you have monster talent and can only compete and make millions by juicing…most people would…

    However, to compare these guys to the heroes of old? Not so sure…it seems their achievements are a result of science…not as much the other factors.

  3. Anand
    Sep 13, 2011 at 11:03 AM

    I knew you would insert the “Djokovic holds his return games” sentence somewhere 😉

    The stats are indeed scary. Nadal saved 15 break-points and still suffered 11 breaks of serve. In short he did a hell of a lot of fighting and lost in 4 sets.

    “In the end he kept everything in perspective during the press interview by saying he is closer to finding the solution than he was at Wimbledon. Which he is, considering he kept the scoreline same on his worst surface (hard courts) compared to Djokovic’s worst (grass).”

    Rafa was better in the post-AO hard-court swing, in that he took Novak to three sets both times, and in one case lost a tie-breaker. Maybe Nole` peaked after that or Rafa dropped after that since he beat him on clay in straight sets.

    One thing – Rafa had some success when he used his slice cross-court to Djokovic’s forehand than backhand. But he did it less often.

    And like you said, Federer is a better match-up for Nole. Rafa’s strokes give him too much time to position himself perfectly for taking the ball early.

    • rjsays
      Sep 14, 2011 at 8:56 AM

      Their rivalry peaked in Miami and then went downhill for Nadal till Wimbledon. Maybe it has started to curve up again at USO. Yeah, Fed is a better match up. Even when he hits short, the reaction time is less for Nole due to the flat strokes. Even when Nadal hits deep, Djokovic gets enough time to react due to the top-spin.

  4. Marianne Bevis
    Sep 14, 2011 at 1:09 AM

    I’ve just finished reading Rafa’s autobio and it reinforces the things he’s been saying in interviews and press conferences since – well since before Wimbledon. He is so much a man who needs complete self-confidence to play his game. And he has sounded, of late, as though that confidence has been shot through by Djokovic, rather as it was after his 2007 Wimbledon defeat by Federer, when he cried inconsolably afterwards. The difference was, he knew he had a way ‘in’ to Roger’s game and knew he had control of the rivalry on one surface so he had enough belief that he could have gain control on others.

    He just seems flummoxed by Novak’s game now. Doesn’t have a tactical plan. Doesn’t have the same shots of Roger that *can* break up the Novak rhythm. So, even if he watches tapes of Roger v Novak, he can’t necessarily replicate them. His solution, thus far, is simply to go away and work harder, but no-one could have worked harder than he did on Monday…that will never be enough and he seems, deep down, to know that: hence the unusual negativity in his words.

    • rjsays
      Sep 14, 2011 at 8:59 AM

      Rafa is the first player I’ve seen who has not been in “denial” about being owned by some other player. Sampras never felt that, McEnroe never felt that and Federer does not feel it even now (except for his rivalry against Nadal, maybe). Due to think this explicit honesty has cost him to lose some more confidence than he should have lost? I mean, Federer, Sampras and others have/had that small “arrogance” in them which made them believe that they are/were the best and hence their losses was more due to the increased level in play of others (or their natural decline) than their loss in confidence. In Rafa’s case, it seems to be the latter. Thanks, Marianne.

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