Tuesday, September 13, 2011

US OPEN 2011: Djokovic Beats Nadal For 4th Major

Novak Djokovic cemented his status as the world's best tennis player this year by defeating 2010 U.S. Open champion and World #2 Rafael Nadal of Spain 6-2 6-4 6-7(3) 6-1 in four hours, ten minutes to win the 2011 U.S. Open men's singles title. It was the Serbian World #1's astonishing 64th win in 66 tour matches. It was Djokovic's 6th consecutive defeat of Nadal in a final this year, his 10th title of the year and 3rd major, 4th grand slam title of the year. This is a singular performance in tennis history, clearly surpassing John McEnroe's 1984 record of 82-3 where he won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as well as losing the French Open final to Ivan Lendl and did not play the Australian Open. Djokovic has managed to compile an almost unbeaten record while playing some of the greatest players of all time in 16-time major champion Roger Federer and 10-time Rafael Nadal (and beating them repeatedly). Djokovic becomes the second player, after Juan Martin del Potro to defeat Federer and Nadal on the way to a major title.

Final Review
As predicted, Djokovic's game matched up well against Nadal's, unfazed by the Spaniard's main weapon, his lefty forehand. However, to me the surprise was that Djokovic did not play his best tennis for most of the match. Nadal really played better during the first two sets, but somehow managed to lose them. For example, Nadal broke Djokovic in the first service game of both of the first two sets, taking a 2-0 lead in each, but ultimately losing them. In the first set, Djokovic responded to the 0-2 deficit by winning 6 games in a row by extending the rallies and dealing better with the windy conditions and rowdy crowds. The Serb was not using his fearsome backhand or powerful forehand to go for winners, instead playing within the lines. What Djokovic did do consistently better than Nadal for the entire match was return serve brilliantly. In the third set, Djokovic started going for more winners, hitting the ball harder and the two traded breaks of serve until Djokovic attempted to serve for the championship up 6-5 and was broken by Nadal to force a tiebreak after some incredibly long rallies and brilliant points which energized the crowd and carried the Spaniard to an easy 7-3 win in the tiebreak.

After holding serve in the first game of the 4th set, Djokovic received treatment on his lower back, taking a medical time out. One would have thought this admission of physical frailty would energize Nadal but instead it seemed to make him uncertain about what approach to take. He held his first service game of the set but then failed to win another game after that, losing the final set 6-1 and seeming to capitulate mentally to the inevitable defeat during the championship game when Djokovic served for the title.

There's no question that Djokovic is as far into Nadal's head as Nadal was in Federer's head at one time. Nadal beat Federer five times in a row (twice) but now Nadal has lost to Djokovic six consecutive times, in important finals (four Masters Series finals and 2 Grand Slam finals). This loss will be difficult for Nadal to take because even though Djokovic cracked first physically, Nadal cracked mentally (and was on the edge of cracking physically).

Next year should be fun!

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