Djokovic continues impressive run
Novak Djokovic is now verging on the superhuman.
By beating Rafael Nadal for the fourth time in four consecutive finals, taking the ATP Masters Series title here at the Foro Italico in the process, 6-4, 6-4, Djokovic has started to redefine how hard, accurately and consistently it is to hit a tennis ball.
He was at it for three hours on Saturday night, surviving a great fight with Andy Murray and now, with the aid, perhaps, of a three-hour rain delay, the Serb returned to the Campo Centrale on a damp Sunday evening to outplay, yet again, the man many consider to be the greatest clay courter the world had ever seen.
In Madrid a week earlier, there was the altitude that might have assisted Djokovic and the fact — later revealed — that Nadal was probably suffering from a minor virus.
But Djokovic had no such advantages in Rome. Facing the only man to have won the Italian title five times with far less opportunity to recuperate than his opponent, Djokovic was able to find the firepower and stamina to do it all again.
And Nadal didn’t make it easy. This was not an error-strewn performance by the Spaniard. Nadal took the attack to Djokovic, winning nine of 10 sorties to the net — hitting 15 winners and making 22 unforced errors to the Serb’s 32. Serves were swapped in both sets, with a determined champion clinging to his crown by hauling Djokovic back from 5-3 in the first and 2-0 in the second.
But Nadal had no time to enjoy parity in the opener as Djokovic struck back immediately, taking a short return on set point and whipping it away cross court for a winner. Only in the third game of the second set did Djokovic look vulnerable, which was about the same moment in the match that he let Murray back in Saturday.
A double fault, a netted backhand and a poor drop shot that landed wide gave Nadal his chance. But if Nadal’s fans were hoping for a more substantial collapse, they were soon disappointed as Djokovic reverted to the devastating hitting that has become the hallmark of his tennis.
The pressure on his opponents must be immense. They know that a ball not perfectly struck, a ball that lands a few feet too short, a ball that gives Djokovic the merest glimpse of an angle to work with — all of that will be fatal.
Nadal admitted afterward that Djokovic is, at the moment, on a different level than the rest of the players.
“He’s doing amazing things,” Nadal said. “He’s in very good mental and physical shape and there is not one point where you can attack him. I felt much better than I did last week in Madrid, and I knew I had to change and try different things. So I was more aggressive, playing more to forehand which worked quite well and tried high balls which were not so good. I think he stays in better positions now to be able to open me up, but I must just go on working and finding solutions.”
Nadal, quite rightly, felt that he had played quite well.
“I cannot ask more of myself and the week has been positive for me," Nadal said. "He is winning at the moment, but I have been there all the time, been in the finals and I must be there again."
Then, with a big Rafa smile, he added, “The problem is that he (Djokovic ) is very, very good.”
Despite the chest beating and roar with which he greeted his victory, Djokovic was more humble in his news conference. He has now won 37 consecutive matches stretching back into last year and is closing in on Roger Federer and Bjorn Borg, who are tied with 41. Guillermo Vilas is the leader with 46.
“It is an incredible honor to be part of history,” Djokovic said. “Beating Nadal two times on clay is an amazing achievement for me, but he is still the King of Clay. He has dominated for so many years and I still have a long way to go.”
Djokovic smiled when asked if the rain delay had helped him.
“Listen, I was ready to go on at 4 p.m (the scheduled start time) because you have to believe you can recover in time after a tough match and I did the job well with the help of the people around me. Now I have to think about Roland Garros,” Djokovic said.
The tennis world will await with bated breath.