Archive

Archive for June, 2013

Roland Garros 2013: Rafael Nadal is Peaking At the Right Time

Jun 6, 2013 1 comment

[By Anand Ramachandran]

The Build Up

The latest edition of Djodal is here. With a cover-story on their current form, regular feature on their rallies and special feature on the meaning of another Slam win for either, it promises to provide another 4 hours of engrossing entertainment.

Are we going to see anything dramatically different from this impending encounter? Both Nadal and Djokovic have probably improved their games to the best levels possible, give or take a few percentages. And both are more or less complete players; which probably means that you cannot analyze the rivalry based on a single shot or two.

It would seem as of today that the rivalry has reached a state of dynamic equilibrium. In the beginning it was Nadal who was dominating, then Djokovic reeled off a set of back-to-back wins, then Nadal turned it around the next year. But it also seems that the number of consecutive wins going to either player is also coming down with time. I, of course, am risking lack of statistical data in calling out such a prediction. If true, though, we are headed for a rivalry whose equality is dead-locked.

Djokovic has the more complete baseline arsenal, while Nadal’s game has non-uniformities – just his forehand would find a place in the Hall-Of-Fame, while his backhand is a rally shot (which takes on a different colour altogether when he is trying to pass). So patterns of play are possible against Nadal, while not against Djokovic, and that helped Djokovic to six consecutive wins. But Nadal could tilt the percentages towards himself using his foot-speed to deploy the inside-out forehand – metaphorically speaking, finding another gear in their encounters last year.

So finally, what are the odds for today?

Rafael will win if …

He takes it point by point. This match is for him, all about breaking the patterns that have helped Djokovic and there is no formula to break patterns. It involves thinking out the points and improving the percentages of counter-play and nobody is a better strategist than Nadal on clay.

He also featured an improved serve and backhand against Wawrinka and one cannot say it was not aimed at the semifinals more than at Stan. A solid backhand cross-court would come in handy in digging himself out of trouble when Novak uses his forehand-inside-out, down-the-line-backhand combination; and a solid serve will help him hold serve against Novak’s barrage of returns.

Most of all, Nadal should not panic when Novak takes huge cuts at his short balls and succeeds. Receding into defence wouldn’t help as Novak is probably one player that Rafael cannot outrun.

Rafael will lose if …

He lets Novak into his head. How much has Rafael gotten over the six consecutive final losses against Novak? The fact of the matter is, Novak can catch fire and run away with a few games, and it will take Rafael a bit more effort than that to string together a set. If Rafael doesn’t treat such phases as just local trends in the match, he can “go back to Mallorca and fish.”

Intangibles

The weather is always an intangible isn’t it? Give Rafael a sunny day with dry-courts and you will spend your time reaching for backhands above your head. Give Novak a damp clay-court and you can have a lesson in transitioning from defence to offence.

Novak is a very emotional player and during the darkest moments of his time on court, he tries to channel what seems to others to be a sense of despair to produce inspired tennis. Would the death of his mentor put a dent in that?

Prediction

Rafael has peaked at the correct time for this semi-final. The chances of a sloppy game are at a minimum. Expect Rafael to turn the tide during crucial moments in the match with some display of clutch tennis.

Advertisements
Categories: Tennis

Roland Garros 2013: Novak Djokovic Heads Towards the Ultimate Prize

Jun 6, 2013 Leave a comment

The Build Up

After all the pre-tournament analysis, expectations, hype and arguments; show time is upon us. The anticipation for this is enormous — we would have to go all the way back to Wimbledon 2008 when there was such an anticipation around a tennis match, and unlike that match this is not even a final. It is as much a testimony to how far the DjoDal (or RafOle) rivalry has progressed as it is about the growth of Nole himself. He has dominated Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the last three years, and is well on the path to become an all time great.

A win tomorrow will bring him one step closer to his biggest goal for the year — winning his maiden Roland Garros title, and with it, the Career Slam. His is further determined to achieve this goal given the recent demise of his first coach — and a mother like figure — Jelena Gencic.

If Rafa wins however, he will be the first player to win eight major titles of a single Slam — something no one has ever done before. Not Pete Sampras, not Roger Federer. Well, he will not win it, but will be one match away from facing either Daveed Ferrer or Jo Wilfred Tsonga for the championship. The fact that we are even discussing in such a way is a further testimony to the importance of this match, which is being called a virtual final. The winner of this will be the heavy — heavy — favorite to win the title.

So what does Novak need to do to achieve this goal? My friend, Anand Ramachandran, discusses Rafa’s chances in his post.

Djokovic will win if…

He does what he has done against Rafa in the past. Take ball on the rise, push Nadal on the run with his down the line shots and finish the point with his magical cross court backhand. He will further look to stretch Nadal off the court with his short-angled cross court forehand. The importance of court positioning cannot be exaggerated in this match. It is vital for Novak — as it is for Rafa — to occupy the center of the court on or close to the baseline.

He has the match up advantage against Nadal the same way Nadal enjoys the match up against Federer — ironically by taking advantage of Nadal’s weaker backhand wing. Expect Djokovic to hit a lot of serves wide on the deuce court to Nadal’s backhand and take control of the point. He will further look to pounce on Nadal’s weak second serves — that occasionally land in the middle of the service box — with his all-time great return of serve.

Djokovic will lose if…

He is anywhere less than his best. Regardless of his recent victories against Nadal, he has struggled against Nadal when he is at 95 percent as opposed to 98 or 100. This is what happened in 2012 — Djokovic was very good, but not excellent as he was in 2011 and Nadal took advantage of it. As smooth as his game flows when he is confident — transitioning from defense to offense, hitting down the line backhand from cross court — they lead to errors if he is unsure of himself during long rallies.

Moreover, despite all the advantage it is hard to ignore that he is facing a seven time champion at Roland Garros who has lost all of one match in the last nine years at this venue.

Intangibles

The weather is predicted to be in the mid twenties (or high seventies in Fahrenheit) and sunny. This generally favors Nadal which makes his spinning forehand bounce higher, high enough to trouble even Djokovic. This is what happened during the fourth set of last year’s final when sun came out on Monday after a damp and rainy Sunday where Novak ran through Nadal taking eight straight games before rain stopped play. Having said that, Djokovic has won their only clay court match this year, and that at Nadal’s favorite hunting ground — where he is even more dominant than at Roland Garros, if it is possible — at Monte Carlo. Djokovic will go in with the confidence, and as he said, “I’m going to [for the] win.”

Prediction

This match is what we expected when the draw came out, and this is what we have got. Expect lots of breaks, momentum changes, and passages of play where one player will dominate the other. Frustrated looks toward respective camps will be combined with confident stares and fist pumps — or chest bumps — and the court will be left with trails of extended stretches. The time between points will be long, the rallies even longer. History and weather supports Nadal, but match up and — if you believe in it — destiny supports Novak. And for tomorrow, I’ll pick the latter over the former. All good things are supposed to end, and for Nadal, tomorrow might just be that day.

Novak Djokovic in four sets.