Sunday, May 15, 2011

ROME: Djokovic Beats Nadal In Historic Victory

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic continued his history-making 2011 season by defeating Rafael Nadal in straight sets 6-4 6-4 in the final of the Italian Open a.k.a. the Rome Masters. It was the 23-year-old Serbian's 39th consecutive match won, and 37th ATP Tour win for 2011. For the second week in a row, Djokovic defeated the universally acknowledged all-time best clay court player of all time in a clay court final without losing a set to him.

In this remarkable run, Djokovic has won 7 tour titles, including 4 Masters shields (all four against World #1 Nadal) and his second major (2011 Australian Open). He has now won 4 of 9 finals against Nadal (after notably losing the 2010 US Open final) and improved his head-to-head career match-up to 11 wins, 16 losses, significantly better than Roger Federer's 8 wins, 16 losses. Both of these stats are dominated by Nadal's edge on clay (10-2 versus Djokovic and 9-2 versus Federer).

To put these numbers in perspective, Djokovic now has 9 Masters shields and 2 major titles. Nadal has 19 and 9, Federer has 17 and 16. Djokovic will turn 24 next Sunday (May 22), Nadal will turn 25 on June 3 and Federer will turn 30 on August 8.

The last 5 years has been dominated by the rivalry between Federer and Nadal, with both of them holding the top 2 ranking spots with Djokovic stuck at World #3. Djokovic is at #2 now and it's a near-certainty he will reach #1 before the end of the year, probably right after Wimbledon. There is a distinct changing of the guard in men's tennis that we are witnessing. Who would have ever thought anyone woud beat Nadal in 4 finals in a row, especially 2 clay-court finals? If Nadal had not reached the semifinals (and he almost lost in the 1st round) then Djokovic would have become #1 tomorrow if he had won the tournament (which he did anyway). Djokovic reached the quarterfinals of the 2010 French Open and the semifinals of the 2010 Wimbledon while Nadal won both those tournaments. Djokovic is almost certainly going to better his performance in those tournaments from last year, and it is not as likely that Nadal will repeat his 2010 results this year.

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