Madrid F: Djokovic Gives Nadal a Lesson in Clay Court Tennis 7-5, 6-4

I wasn’t too optimistic about Djokovic’s chances in my last post, but at least I rightly predicted that Nadal would not sweep the clay court season. It is strange though that Djokovic struggles with Ferrer and Belucci but beat Nadal relatively easy, isn’t it? I guess Djokovic has really grown mentally. He seems to leave his best for the most important moment. I don’t particularly like Djokovic myself, but just for today I love him. He is not just doing Fedfans a huge favor, but tennis in general. First of all he is the first guy that is truly standing up to Nadal. As a Fedfan, I have to respect that a lot. Roger has stood up to Nadal in the past, but unfortunately they played a lot on clay, Roger’s worst surface. Also, Roger’s backhand is not his best shot, and Nadal has relentlessly exposed it on clay especially.

Enter Djokovic, a guy with an incredible double handed backhand and unheard of movement on that side too. This Djokovic is Nadal’s nemesis. Nadal is so used to being able to pummel the backhands of right handers to death, that he had no answer for Djokovic today. He kept doing the only thing he knew, which is to hit that forehand cross court to the right handers backhand, but Djokovic was rock solid on the side. That is such an incredible shot that you would have a case for calling Djokovic’s backhand a better shot than Nadal’s forehand. It certainly was today. I know a lot of Fedfans find this kind of baseline tennis boring, but for me personally it’s quite exciting. It’s exciting for me to see anyone beat Nadal. Period. Up to this point there has been no one in the game who could beat Nadal on his own terms.

Del Potro has done it three times on hard court, but Djokovic have done so two times in a hard court Master Series final and now on Nadal’s beloved clay as well. This is just highly impressive stuff from Djokovic. He simply makes it impossible for Nadal to play his relentless topspin shots and dominate proceedings. He takes the ball early and hits it deep and hard. Therefor Nadal doesn’t have the time to really get on top of rallies and get his man on a string as it were. I mean it’s beautiful to see Nadal being the one under pressure for a change. Especially on clay. Djokovic was up 4-0 in the first set and could have won that set even easier. But it was amazing to see how he held serve to love at 5-5 and then break Nadal to love in the next game. And this was with a fanatical Madrid crowd behind Nadal.

I think Fedfans should try to appreciate Djokovic, if only for the fact that he may be the one thing that stands between Nadal becoming the GOAT in terms of slam titles won. I think he has shown by now that he will be a thorn in Nadal’s side in his quest to become the GOAT. To beat Nadal in three straight MS finals is pretty damn impressive, especially the one today. What is funny to me is that both Djokovic and Roger has done better against Nadal in Madrid than in Miami, which shows to me how ridiculously slow some of the hard court have become these days. I am now almost convinced that Madrid played faster than Miami. But whatever the court surface may be, Djokovic is now a thorn in Nadal’s side. I wouldn’t even be surprised if he can defeat Nadal in Rome and Paris now. This is truly a great thing for tennis, and for clay court tennis in particular.

Djokovic has effectively saved the clay court season today. It was all Nadal up until this point, but Djokovic is a real threat now. Seriously, who wants to see Nadal win another French Open title without even being tested? Now you have a guy there who can potentially beat him. At least it will be interesting now. As for Roger, we have to admit that he is for once the third best clay courter on tour. Djokovic and Nadal is still in their own league. I don’t mind much either. Roger is past his prime and the most important thing from here on is that Nadal does not break his slam record. If Djokovic keeps this level up it is hard to see Nadal ever break Roger’s slam record. It is crucial that Nadal has a real rival from here on, just like Roger had Nadal. Or else he will just run away with all the slams and cruise past Roger’s slam record.

Of course Djokovic has to lose at some point, but you have to believe that he is now a more mature player and can keep a similar level up for years to come. That should be enough to keep Nadal from winning the most slams. And it’s not impossible that Roger may add one or two more slams to his own resume either…

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59 Comments

  1. Ru-an: Your post is, I think, very fair to what we all saw; Rafa now knows–as Roger learned from Rafa–that he has a true rival in skill and mental toughness. This is the poetic justice that will always be played out on the court, and, as a Fedfan, it was good to see Rafa get a taste of what he routinely hands out. Watching the match, I thought about all the drama that Roger’s matches now present, how uncertain everything–except for moments, but only moments–has become. What I saw was tough, real tennis, played all-out by both, but played with a steely toughness by Novak. There was nothing “super-human” that took place in Madrid; what we saw was very high level baseline tennis played with moment-by-moment tactics on display and, for Novak, especially, a tenacity and mental resilience that any tennis fan had to admire.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yeah the doping thing does become boring after a while, as does everything that gets mentioned too often. Sometimes you just have to admit that these players have amazing skills.

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  2. This latest post has me so upset I can hardly stand it. I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep tonight. What are you talking about? 1 or 2 slams left? RUAN,,,,We are going for 4!!!! Yeah baby!!!! Go Federer.
    G

    P.S. I’ll even be happy with 3. LOL, maybe even 2.

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  3. I’m sorry guys, but I can’t get beyond the doping. It just seems unbelievable that Djokovic would all of a sudden be destroying the king of clay in long rallies. I guess I have to admit I do find it boring. I think Djokovic realized if he was going to beat Nadal or Federer he was going to have to take some medicine. Now he travels with his doctor and can’t be beat. It doesn’t move me, though. I do like the fact that it will possible prevent Nadal from beating Roger’s record. Nole has no chance of touching it with only 2 titles to his name. But it doesn’t thrill me as tennis. Federer’s game yesterday did. He’s the one person that’s truly a joy to watch in this sport.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Look, if Nadal is doping then its only justice that he is taken down by another doper. What goes around comes around.

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    wilyam Reply:

    And what made you think that Federer is not taking drugs. To alleged based on gut feel and not on scientific basis is truly unfair to Federer. I think he deserves better than you guys.

    In the end, its talent that counts and no matter how much you dope but if you dont have”IT” then you simply won’t and can’t win.

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  4. I agree with that, Ruan. Nadal found the way and others have taken it. I just wish the game was clean. Does anyone remember Djokovic winded after ONE set at the US Open last year. Here’s a player who always had stamina issues. And wasn’t it strange that Nadal congratulated Djokovic “and his team.” A weird dig and exactly the same thing that Djoko said to Nadal at last year’s open. They know the other player is doping. I suspect Nadal will be even more pumped up for French. Djoko is a more talented natural player in many respects and I’d favor Djokovic to win over Nadal with his sudden, newfound stamina after five years on the tour.
    But yes, I am very glad he beat Nadal today. He wasn’t even looking that good in the match yesterday. Maybe they’ll both blow themselves and Fed will be left standing. I think the escalation may become so obvious that somebody will get caught. One can hope, anyway.

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  5. I think this post is a bit off in two respects. First, Djokovic or no Djokovic, it is wildly unrealistic to think Nadal could get to Roger’s slam total. Even assuming (which I don’t) that that total stays at 16, for Nadal to win 7 more majors is really far-fetched. That would be a pace of 2 per year for three more years, plus one more besides, i.e., til 2013. Nadal won his first major in 2005. That would mean 9 successive years of winning majors with the last 6 of those being years of major dominance. Utterly unheard of before Fed – virtually all the other Open-Era greats peaked out at 7 years of successive major wins with 3-4 years of dominance. Fed has been the massive exception, with 8 years (and counting!) of winning a major with 6 years of dominance sandwiched between 1-major years at the beginning and end. It is highly unlikely that, given the toll his style of play takes physically and mentally, that Nadal will not only equal the longevity of other greats but surpass them beyond what Fed has done.

    Second, Djokovic is playing out of this world, no doubt. But regarding clay there is a deceptive match-up issue: Rafa’s game is more suited for Djokovic on clay – with shorter, slower balls – than that of big hitters with faster, flatter balls, such as Soderling, Delpo and Fed. While Djokovic is well-suited to absorb that style of game on hard court, on clay his movement isn’t as sure. Witness how much more trouble Belluci’s flatter, deeper strokes gave him in the semi’s than Rafa’s groundies. I think Soderling will give him a big test if they meet in the Rome quarters and I predict that Rafa won’t make the Rome finals. He likely faces Belluci first up – which will be very tough – and then Ferrer among others even before reaching the semi’s, to take on Fed or Berdych. And he has lots of reasons not to make the finals: fatigue and the desire to not lose to Djokovic at low altitude prior to RG. So if Djokovic makes it to the Rome finals (a big if – he will also be careful not too max out b/f RG) I think he’ll face either Fed or Berdych. And I think either of them will give him more trouble than he had today.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks for the critique Nelson but i dont agree. I think Nadal was well capable of beating Rogers record without a proper rival. If Djokovic wasnt there he would have won Indian Wells, Miami, and still be undefeated on clay. There would be no one to threaten him on clay for years to come. Also at Wimbledon he remains a big favorite. I have learned not to underestimate Nadal, as he has proven me wrong time and time again. I am just not comfortable as long as he is after Rogers GOAT status. Even now im not comfortable. Djokovic will be a big threat at the hard court majors, but at Wimby and RG Nadal is still the favorite.

    I dont see Djokovic losing to other players than Nadal on clay either. Him and Nadal is a mile ahead of the rest right now. They both remain the favorites to make the Rome finals. Having said that, it may be better for both of them to lose early, given how much tennis they have played of late. If either Nadal or Djokovic lose it will be because of fatigue, not because the other player is better. I think they will be there come final day in Paris.

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    So I guess we agree on two things and disagree on a third. I’m with you that Rafa and Nole are the clear favs for reaching the final at Roland Garros. But that’s consistent with me thinking that for sure one, perhaps both, of them won’t make the Rome final (which I guess you also see as sensible given fatigue/conservation). My only qualification is as follows: if Nole reaches the Rome final and loses there, I think his status as *clear* FO co-favorite goes down a notch. Nothing that happens in Rome changes Rafa’s status as clear (co-)favorite for the FO.

    We disagree on Rafa’s slam potential. I think, out of an abundance of caution which is understandable as a Fed fan, you’re being a bit historically short-sighted: the reign of any truly dominant player looks to go on indefinitely and it always ends more abruptly than anyone expected. The only way to check against such surprises is to consult the past as an (imperfect to be sure) guide to the present/future. And the entire history of Open era tennis tells us that it is *extremely* unlikely for Rafa to continue at a 2-slam per year pace after this year. I am willing to wage that whatever his count is by the end of this year will be augmented by only 3 more majors in future years (2 RG’s + 1 Wimby) – with a slim outside chance of a 4th if no one can master grass with Fed gone.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Dont get me wrong, i would like to believe you are right. I agree that things end abruptly. The question is when will it. The one thing i have always predicted is that Nadal will burn out sooner or later from his taxing game style. Whether it is because of doping or not, he has proved me wrong several times. However i still believe he will burn out. He is still going strong though. If it wasnt for Djokovic he would still be very dominant. I cant depend on him burning out anymore. Djokovic will have to play his part, which i think he will. Other than Djokovic there is no one who can really stop him.

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  6. So, after Davydenko’s sucesses over Nadal on hard court we now have another player in Djokovic who is looking to dominate Nadal in the H2H – including on clay. For those who rely on the H2H argument to say that Nadal is the better player than the winner of 16 Slams the H2H argument is going to come back and bite them, as Nadal will likely have a losing record to players with fewer Slams (Davy of course has none.) Thanks, for that at least, Djoko.
    I very much enjoyed (as you did Ruan) seeing Nadal bossed by Djokovic. I found myself cheering at the incredible backhands that ripped through the Spaniard’s forehand. The ridiculous moonballs that Nadal flung back into court from beneath the stands were not enough to stem the inevitable, as Djokovic repeatedly showed that he is a far better shot-maker than the Spaniard. Nadal certainly ran – and ran – but he ultimately had nowhere to hide.
    Yet, another part of me was depressed at what I was seeing. I have learned to mistrust how Nadal has used his absurd physical ability to dominate men’s tennis today with a game of unprecedented defensive skills (he hit far fewer winners than Federer in their semi – and of course Djokovic), but Djokovic’s astonishing improvement this year in strength and stamina (in a player who had typically struggled in that department – even to the end of last year) has shown what it takes to level the playing field against a Nadal. The tennis is physically unreal now on both sides of the court, not just on the Spaniard’s side. There is some justice in that but followers of the Tour de France will understand how the rules of the game, so to speak, have changed.
    So on to Rome, where we will be absorbed in the same spectacle with Djokovic that we were with Nadal, of wondering how long the streak of wins can continue. Well, as far as that question is concerned, I don’t care much about what happens at Rome: I would just like Djokovic to remain injury-free for Paris, to deny Nadal a record 6th FO title. Am I discounting Federer? When it comes to the title – yes; I don’t think Roger plays by the “Tour de France” rules, which is what it takes to now be the “best”. But when I see him play in the way he sometimes showed in his semi against Nadal, I am reminded of what a beautiful game of all-court tennis looks like – before it passes into history.

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    mel Reply:

    “We now have another player in Djokovic who is looking to dominate Nadal in the H2H – including on clay.” This seems rather premature considering Nadal still has a healthy lead over Novak 16-10 and on clay 9-1.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Another example of a meaningless h2h record since so many matches was played on clay.

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    mel Reply:

    How appropriate then that very same H-H was used to point out that Djokovic would eventually “dominate” his head to head with Nadal…You cant ignore the head to head when its convenient for you and your fan base and then turn around and reference it as some sort of ominous portent for Nadal’s end.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I dont know what youre saying.

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    neil Reply:

    Mel, you might think that it is premature to say Djoko may come to dominate Nadal in the H2H, because the numbers still very much favour Nadal. True. But of their last 8 encounters Djokovic has won 6 of them. He has beaten Nadal 3 times in a row this year, including on clay. Nadal himself has acknowledged that he is going to lose his number one ranking sooner or later to Djokovic. Premature? Only if Djokovic breaks a leg – or is revisited by his “gluten” allergy.

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    mel Reply:

    Ruan- I am saying that you cannot discount Nadal’s H-H with Djokovic by stating that it is “meaningless” because so many matches were contested on clay. 13 matches were played on hardcourt and 10 on clay and 1 on grass. So the H-H is not skewed to Nadal simply because clay matches abounded like in Federer’s case, but simply that until this year, Nadal has beaten Djokovic the majority of the time regardless of surface. And as a side note, it is completely asinine to discount clay court matches when it comes to Nadal- it is a legitimate and important surface on the tour with a Grand Slam played on it. Nadal’s prowess on it should not be ignored simply because most of his rivals, barring Djokovic cannot give him a good fight- more their inability that some failing or fault on Nadal’s part.

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    neil Reply:

    Mel, you are missing the point – and it is not Ruan that actually raised this. Quite simply, Djokovic now has Nadal’s number – even Nadal acknowledges that. What that means is that Djokovic is going to notch more wins against Nadal than the reverse being true. As we have just seen in Madrid, it also now includes clay. In time, the head-to-head will reflect that – and probably on all surfaces. We have seen the same kind of trend in the past, when Federer reversed his H2H against opponents he formerly used to lose to, like Hewitt and Nalbandian. It’s called the changing of the guard – and I suggest we have just seen it in Madrid.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Wrong. Djokovic is 9-5 vs Nadal on hard. Nadal is a clay court specialist who uses clay to get positive h2h’s against top rivals. A great tennis player is good on all surfaces. Roger had good h2h’s against all the top clay players bar Nadal. All Nadal does all day is moonball and retrieve his opponents to death on clay. His weakness on hard court have been exposed several times by the likes of Djokovic, Murray, Del Potro, Ferrer, and several others.

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    mel Reply:

    If a great tennis player is “good on all surfaces, then none of the players are good according to your assumption as none of them have yet to trump Nadal consistently on clay. If Nadal uses his clay court prowess to his advantage, what is stopping the other top players from dominating him on hard courts- his least favorite surface and gaining an
    advantage over him on head to head in that way? After all, there are far more hard court tounaments than clay ones on the tour calendar…

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Its because Nadal never goes far enough in HC events, while he is always there in the clay events.

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    mel Reply:

    As far as I know, Nadal has been consistently present at the business end of hard court masters tournaments- quarters or beyond for all of last year with the exception of Shanghai and this year too. So why exactly should his head to head with most players be discounted? Regardless of surface, he is far and above the majority of the players on tour in terms of winning important tournaments. The double standard that you operate in your argument is facile- Rafa’s H-H has to be discounted precisely because he is so good on clay. Why not actually point the blame where it really lies- the inability of other players (until now Djokovic) to actually test Nadal? You cannot sensibly rail at the results of a successful strategy (in this case, Nadal’s play on clay) which though it may not appeal to you still produces the best results on one surface since Borg. And it is getting tiresome to repeat this again and again- but if Nadal is a clay specialist, how do you account for the career slam that he achieved a good many years before Federer (your paragon of an all surface specialist)? And more importantly, why was this “clay court specialist” the one to make the finals of the last two hard court masters when the hard courts specialists abound on the tour? At a certain point, arguments over surface become pointless at the sustained excellence of players- their talent and skill account for much of their success- not arcane discussions on surface or playing style. After all, no one discounts Federer from being the GOAT simply because he has not excelled at the French as he has at the other three majors because after a certain point in his career, his skill spoke for him and his results. Similarly, Nadal’s dominant H-H with the majority of the ATP cannot be simplistically ascribed to clay- champions are in infinitesimal ways, above the rest of the tour in talent, mentality and skill which are always present irrespective of playing surface.

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    neil Reply:

    “And it is getting tiresome to repeat this again and again- but if Nadal is a clay specialist, how do you account for the career slam that he achieved a good many years before Federer (your paragon of an all surface specialist)?”

    That is a baffling claim. Federer completed his career slam at the French in 2009; Nadal completed his at last year’s US Open. At that point, Federer had amassed 14 slams; Nadal 9. I know whose hardware I would rather have on my shelf.
    If you are saying that Nadal has achieved his wins at an earier age than Federer then that is of academic interest only. So what? How many more is Nadal going to get – with Djokovic now in the road?
    The player with the most slams has the better record. If that wasn’t so then we would have to put Agassi (or Bruguera) ahead of Sampras. Sampras set the benchmark of 14 slams and it was Federer who surpassed it.
    In anycase, your diverting to the issue of the career slam shows that you continue to duck the question of Nadal’s H2H against Djokovic: Djoko has won 6 of their last 8 encounters, with 3 in a row this year – including on Nadal’s best surface. Nadal might still have the more overall wins but what direction is the traffic clearly going?
    With more wins by Djokovic on the cards – Nadal now has no answer to him – the Spaniard will pretty soon have a losing record against a player who has fewer slams than he does. Oh dear. There goes the old H2H argument that Nadal fans love to use against Federer.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well i dunno if Djokovic will end up with a positive h2h against Nadal Neil, just because he was so far behind at one stage. It is once again a h2h that is skewed because Nadal won all but one of their many matches on clay. Sadly, Djokovic will never have the kind of h2h over Nadal that Nadal has over Federer. But who cares really? Like you said, we all know who’s hardware we’d rather have on our shelf.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    The fact that Nadal won the career slam at an earlier age has nothing to do with it. Nadal is an early bloomer, much earlier than Roger. Also, Roger has 5 slams or more on two different surfaces, while Nadal only has five on one. Nadals second best slam is Wimbledon, where he has won 2 slams, while Roger has won 4 slams on his third best slam. In other words, Nadal has won more than half of his slams on one surface. He is clearly still miles behind Roger in terms of GOAT status because of this.

    Clay is the only surface these days where some players basically dont show up. I am here referring to American players. This is because it is such a specialized surface. If you have mastered it like Nadal has, you can really exploit it against other players. Clay surely has to be the most insignificant surface on tour. Even grass these days are much easier to play on. That is why the true test is hard court, because it is the in between surface. As a GOAT you thus want to win most of your slams in HC then, because that is where most of the competition lies. To win one French Open is more than enough. You just gotta show that you can play on the surface basically. No one expects more. The fact that Nadal has won just 2 HC slams dont look good. He may have great h2h’s against everyone, but when it matters he comes up short on HC. Fact is he is a one dimensional player, and that fact has been taken advantage of even on clay now(by Djokovic).

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  7. “Other than Djokovic there is no one who can really stop him.” This is what I really disagree with. C’mon, as you yourself said, even before this match he wasn’t dominating clay like years past. Who can stop him? Well, how about our Fed for starters? With what, 3 matches on clay before this tournament, Fed already geared up enough to push him hard – with a game plan that can only be better tweaked and executed going forward. Yes, RG is over five sets with slower conditions. But Fed isn’t doing the battle alone. Delpo and Soderling should not be discounted. Nor, for that matter, Ferrer and Murray to do their parts – not beating Rafa but denting him. In a nutshell, besides Djokovic, I think Delpo and Sod can each beat Rafa over five sets on clay (with Fed only having a slim outside chance today); Fed and Murray can do it on grass; and Fed, Delpo and Murray can do it on (fast, USO) hardcourts.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I see no one outside of Djokovic who can beat Nadal when it really matters, including Roger. This goes for clay and grass(although Roger has an outside chance on grass). On hard guys like Roger, Murray, and Delpo stands a chance, all be it a pretty small one. But the thing is these wins from Djokovic is denting Nadals invincibility, which gives these other guys a better chance of beating him.

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    manu Reply:

    nah…had roger done it on saturday you would be predicting how roger will come back etc etc. Nadal is no longer vulnerable and Djokovic-despite his win- is rapidly cooling down. That sets up the stage perfectly for Roger

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    Nelson Goodman Reply:

    manu, thanks! you put the main points i was trying to get across much more succinctly!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Djokovic rapidly cooling down? Lol.

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  8. Congrats on your prediction coming true, Ru-an.

    Djokovic’s game is technically superior to Nadal; he’s a much better ball-striker.

    But, as happens with so many players, he lacked the physical endurance to keep up with Nadal. He would play well, but then become exhausted, and then Nadal would grind him down.

    Now that he’s suddenly gained stamina equal to Nadal’s, so that they’re on equal footing, the technically superior player is now beating the technically inferior one.

    This Madrid final proved that Nadal has no answers to players who can match him physically: he wins purely by virtue of his limitless strength/stamina and his excessive topspin, coupled with the fact that he is a lefty and can hammer the opponent’s weaker backhand with his forehand.

    If a player of superior skill achieves strength and stamina on par with Nadal’s (by whatever means) the Spaniard can’t do anything to stop him.

    Nadal’s only option is to become even stronger, and I think we’ll see that at RG, if not necessarily in Rome.

    This is only going to escalate as players try to outdo each other in getting faster and stronger.

    The physical and psychological consequences to athletes who do what it takes to achieve these increases in strength and stamina are severe. They will surely become visible very soon.

    This path that Nadal has started tennis down is not a good one. Djokovic has shown that there is nothing unique about Nadal’s incredible physical prowess–which is little surprise to those who suspected the source of that prowess.

    Other players will soon gain similar physical attributes, and it will be well and truly ON. I don’t know that most people here will like the results.

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    marron Reply:

    Being in the medical field, it’s no surprise to me that an undetected gluten allergy was causing Djokovic problems with overall health. Now that it’s been discovered, and he’s taking steps to avoid the allergen, of course he would generally feel better, fitter, stronger, etc. imo, nothing to do with what many are implying here. As usual.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Fair enough explanation. It may very well be the reason for his rise.

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    Dave Reply:

    @Marron, being “Gluten Free” escalated Djokovic to an astonishing playing level. I don’t buy it. I don’t have any respect for this guy and I think everyone is being lied to by this moron.

    [Reply]

    Ru-an Reply:

    Well we dont know that for sure. Confidence can do a lot for a player. Arent you glad there is someone to put Nadal with his moonballing into his place? Im elated. I couldnt care less if he is doing through doping anyway, given that Nadal is just as likely if not more so to dope.

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    Dave Reply:

    @Ruan, Yoa are correct for me to imply that we are being lied to is a little off-based. Yes, I am happy that someone is possibly capable of dethroning Nadal and actually creating a better overall situation for Federer. My opinion when an athlete transforms himself over a short off-season tremondously in every area of his game and never tires out either physically or mentally. Someone who has been subject to physical ailments and lack of stamina. No one can get past this guy. I don’t want say bad things about any athletes but my instinct tells me otherwise. Change in your diet is not enough. Murray(backhand, Soderling(forehand), Monfils(footwork) are a lot stronger than him and yet they are nowhere close to his level of play. I apologize I offended anyone.

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    marron Reply:

    Changing your diet can be enough, especially when you have an ALLERGY. No offense taken here by this poster, but indeed, a body’s response to being continually bombarded by an allergen like gluten, which is present in so many high-carb foods (necessary for athletes, no?), could be enough to make one feel sick, weak, and ‘not right’. I would say kudos to Djokovic for doing as well as he had done in the past while still suffering from undermining effects of a gluten allergy.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I tend t agree with you marron. Diet can make a huge difference, especially when you have an allergy like Djokovic. He was always a huge talent but you always felt like something was holding him back. I dont think we should be so quick to make everything about doping. We have to leave room for players excelling through legitimate means, or else we are in danger of looking too hypocritical.

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    neil Reply:

    Ruan, there is no way that a change in diet alone is going to produce the improvements we have seen in Djokovic this year: we are not talking about a player who smoked, drank, ate hamburgers and was two stone overweight.
    From the end of last year to the beginning of this year he went from a player with suspect fitness to tireless, as well as hitting with way more power in his strokes. At the AO he was averaging more than 10kph than Federer on his groundstrokes – that is a huge difference. The Djokovic who used to lose consistently to Federer did not hit bigger than Federer. Neither was he handicapped in anyway: he just wasn’t as good as Federer. We were reminded of that with his losses to Federer at the end of last year. But that has all changed. Djokovic has become Superman this year, and all in a matter of only a few weeks. We are used to seeing that kind of improvement in Nadal; it defies belief that athletes in their prime can make such sudden and dramatic physical changes.

    “You see these guys or girls who come onto the tour talking about their new training programs and their diets where they eat this or that new thing…but they’ll never tell you about the drugs they took.”
    – John McEnroe, 1992

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Another thing that bothers me is that Djokovic should have known about his gluten allergy by now. I mean the guy is 24 and a pro ffs. That might as well be something he made up to cover up the doping.

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  9. I think that if this shakes Nadal a little bit, and someone else manages to beat him on clay as well (although there are only 2 major clay tournaments left this year), it could mean a lot. Because Nadal may lose the “aura of invincibility” — which I think accounts for a lot of his victories. Sometimes he just doesn’t play all that well, but still wins. His opponents just fold, deflate, give up.

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  10. I don’t care for Novak Djokovic or his super proud family. Yes, he has talent and now that he’s “gluten- free” he has more stamina than eveyone on the ATP. He’s cocky and has displayed in the past a lack of respect towards Federer and blatantly said how Nadal is the “GOAT”. I didn’t even see him tired at all against Nadal. I have to question this. You can’t change your game that quickly during the off season, his serve, his striking power, nobody can punch through this guy, his energy is at a different level. I absolutely do not like this guy. It’s my opinion but I think he’s a cheat. I never respect him as a top athlete.

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    David Reply:

    Katarina, I have to question your sanity. Are you blind? RETARDED? Are you incapable of doing a little research on just how badly gluten allergy can affect you? Novak’s game hasn’t changed. He’s more skinny than before. All of the top players acknowledge he’s the same player as before, albeit brimming with confidence. And really, you think that the “cheating” that you insinuated at can improve his serve, which is a TECHNICAL issue that he has tinkered with over the past few years??? You ruefully acknowledge that he’s talented yet you question when he lives up to it??? IF you had half the intelligence of a human being you would have noticed that he showed, over these past few months, that his game is more efficient than Nadal’s. So yes, you’re entitled to your opinions, but it is MY opinion that you’re nothing but a self contradicting and bitter hater who made a poor attempt to take a swipe at an athlete you don’t like just because he is having the season of his life. I don’t know who or where you are, but you’re definitely not the kind of person I would respect in real life. Think twice before posting such a hateful, worthless comment next time.

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    Dave Reply:

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and an informed one on top of it. Lighten up. I don’t partiicularly care the lack of respect that Djokovic and his entourage have displayed towards Federer over the years. Djokovic court side manner after he wins a masters or a slam or should I say almost everthing except the ones he is not in, is rude and immature. Yes, I believe he is using and a lot of people are suspicious. So What, did I step on your precious feelings. Up your meds. and chill out. Don’t start spewing names and telling me I’m disrespectful.

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    David Reply:

    The fact is, your suspicions and opinions are unfounded, prejudiced, and quite insipid. Of course you are entitled to your opinion about Novak, as I am to mine about YOU. You obviously have ZERO medical knowledge regarding drugs and tennis. Stop pretending you do.

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    Dave Reply:

    You’re right, I’m wrong.

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  11. Mel, you might think that it is premature to say Djoko may come to dominate Nadal in the H2H, because the numbers still very much favour Nadal. True. But of their last 8 encounters Djokovic has won 6 of them. He has beaten Nadal 3 times in a row this year, including on clay. Nadal himself has acknowledged that he is going to lose his number one ranking sooner or later to Djokovic. Premature? Only if Djokovic breaks a leg – or is revisited by his “gluten” allergy.

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  12. Ruan, I have a question which might form the useful subject of a post: why is Djokovic able to beat Nadal when Roger can’t?
    I am not saying Roger can never beat Nadal – he often has – on faster surfaces – but Djokovic this year is showing he has the measure of Nadal in a way that Roger never has – and certainly not on clay.
    I would suggest it comes down to a few critical features:
    1. The backhand. Obvious. Djokovic’s two-handed shot copes better with Nadal’s forehand than Roger’s one-hander does. He can comfortably hit the higher and the wider ball, and he can hit through Nadal’s forehand with this shot, as well as hit the winner down the line. Currently, there isn’t a better backhand in the game. It is a nightmare for Nadal, as it takes away his stock shot – the sharply angled cross-court forehand into a righty’s backhand; he is hitting to Djokovic’s strength. But there is another important facet to this shot. Djokovic doesn’t run around his backhand to hit his forehand as Roger does – hence he has less court to cover, and is less likely to expose his forehand court.
    2. The return of serve. Djokovic rarely misses and attacks off his backhand. Roger can miss badly on the return or hit it too weakly against Nadal – that is not a mistake Djokovic makes.
    3. Djokovic plays a simpler game. The formula is simple for Djoko against Nadal: get inside the court and hit Nadal left and right with pace until he gets the error or can hit the winner. He tried only two drop-shots that I recall in his match in Madrid (and lost both points), rarely came to the net, and rarely used a defensive slice. Roger, on the other hand – because he can’t attack with equal potency on the backhand side – is compelled to attempt a much greater variety of shots: sometimes he makes the wrong choice, or doesn’t execute – he can over-complicate his game. Djokovic hits fewer errors, which is vital against Nadal.
    4. Mental. Djokovic now believes he can beat Nadal anytime, anyplace. He rarely misses an opportunity to put Nadal away. He plays the big points with confidence. Roger doesn’t play with that conviction against Nadal, and so the big points slip from his grasp. Nadal has been in his head for too long as an unsolvable dilemma.
    So that’s my assessment. I will add this however: that as Roger has struggled with Nadal while Djokovic has found a way through (this year) I think that a Roger Federer who finds his form will quite possibly have the measure of Djokovic again. But that is a whole different equation.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Good post. The main point is the backhand. That is really the big difference. There is no pressure for Djokovic when Nadal goes to his bh. He loves hitting it as it is one of the best shots in the world. The other thing is his movement to that side. Nadal cant do so much damage with the cross court angle because of it. Djokovic just runs it down with that incredible stretch and then he has amazing control with the bh. He doesnt just put it back but puts Nadal on the defense with it. This totally messes up Nadals rhythm, who is used to pounding the backhands of players to death. Believe it or not, that is his game plan. And now that someone has taken it away from him, he is left clueless. Nadal is a very one dimensional player. He had nowhere to go against Djokovic in Madrid when his main plan didnt work. Nadal is finally being exposed for the one dimensional player he is. The only reason he has gotten so far is because clay suits his game plan so much, and the grass on Wimbledon has been slowed down so much that he has been able to do well there. He has won only 2 hc slams, and i dont think he will win anymore. Nadals reign was like a nightmare that had to come to an end at some point. I think that time is at hand now. Thank you Djokovic for saving tennis.

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  13. Neil and Ruan- in response to our discussion up thread, I was not by any means ducking the H-H between Djokovic and Nadal by bringing up the career slam. I only referenced it to buttress my claim that Nadal is indeed a player proficient on all surfaces. I never intended that my stating that Nadal actually got the slam earlier than Fed to be taken as that he is better than Fed career wise. Clearly 16 slams outshine 9, but I dont think that the respective ages when they achieved the slams are merely an “academic issue.” That Nadal was able to get a slam on all surfaces at a relatively young age shows his propensity to adapt his game for different surfaces- some all court development has to be present for that to happen. If he was just a clay court specialist, then the US Open and Wimbledon might well have remained out of his grasp for some years like the French eluded Federer until 2009. Now to Djokovic’s H-H, it is obvious that he is catching upto Nadal, but I think it is relatively premature to claim that Djokovic is going to dominate Nadal. Three matches against Nadal on the trot is nothing to be sniffed at, but there is still a big gap between the two H-H wise. Fluctuating form and health will make it hard for either player to maintain a running streak of matches to start dominating the other- as someone else mentioned up-thread, tennis is cyclical. It surely is the ascent of Djokovic now, but until the objective results of a dominant H-H with Nadal actually come to fruition some time in the future, it is premature to triumphantly claim that it is some kind of payback for “the old H2H argument that Nadal fans love to use against Federer.” And Ruan- you did not address my question of how to account for Nadal’s presence at the business end of all but one of the masters’ hard court tournaments last year and this if he is to be classed a “clay court specialist” who takes advantage of the clay season?

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    neil Reply:

    Mel, thanks for replying to my earlier post but I hope you don’t give advice on investments! The graph is all going one way with Djokovic and Nadal – 6 of 8 to Djoko and 3 in a row this year. I know whose stocks are going up – and that’s where my money is going! As I said earlier, I think Djokovic has Nadal’s number now; I can’t see that being reversed, unless Nadal’s doctor comes up with something new.

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    mel Reply:

    There were a number of players like Del Potro and Nalbandian who were similarly hyped in their days as legitimate contenders to Nadal and many were quick to buy into their rising stock. But for various reasons both in and out of their own control like health, they have waned and Nadal has been more successful than them. I for one am not so quick to transfer all my chips on the similar meteoric rise of Djokovic. Three masters’ final victories against Nadal are impressive to say the least, but until the similar scenario plays out at the Grand Slam level, Nadal’s preeminence remains secure, at least for the time being. After all, last year during the fall season, after Federer had beaten Djokovic three times in a row, there was chatter that the US semi was an aberration and that normal order was restored until Djokovic beat him at the 2011 AO. If Djokovic can mete out the same results to Nadal in the slams as he has done at the masters’ this year, then I’d say it is indeed time to reconsider one’s investment. But until then, it would be a simple case of counting chickens before they hatch.

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    neil Reply:

    What do you mean ‘mete out the same results to Nadal in the slams as he has done at the masters’? Aren’t you forgetting the AO this year? Djokovic won it while Nadal exited at the semis. Or doesn’t that count because Nadal didn’t make the final?
    That’s the silly argument about the H2H, and the point made by Ruan – Nadal usually beats his rivals when he makes the finals on clay (clearly his best surface) but he doesn’t make many slam finals on hardcourt – two so far, in an 8 year career.
    You are also overlooking that the Djokovic of this year is way way better than the Djokovic of any previous year: his unbeaten record since December last year hardly looks like a seasonal blip in form.
    As for ‘Nadal’s pre-eminence remains secure’, well even Nadal doesn’t agree with you about that; and as I said earlier, short of breaking a leg or being revisited by one of his allergies Djokovic is going to take the No.1 ranking off Nadal, and sooner rather than later. Djokovic has reached a level that Nadal can no longer match – even on clay, as we saw last week.

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    mel Reply:

    I meant that for me Djokovic has to beat Nadal at a slam for me to be fully convinced that he is indeed going to “dominate” Nadal specifically. For me slam results count for much more than masters’ tournament victories- Murray has a winning H-H with Federer but is 0-2 against him in slams. And when I talked of preeminence, I did not mean the No 1 ranking, but that the stats and pedigree of a 9 time slam champion far outweigh that of Djokovic’s two- at least for the time being.

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    neil Reply:

    “the stats and pedigree of a 9 time slam champion far outweigh that of Djokovic’s two- at least for the time being.”
    By the same reasoning, Federer’s 16 slams give him a pedigree that far outstrips Nadal. Many would agree.
    However, you seem to have difficulty acknowledging that Djokovic is quite clearly the best player in the world this year: he is beating everybody, and that of course includes Nadal. With his fitness no longer an issue Djokovic can now consistently outplay Nadal – he is the better player. His win at the AO, where Nadal fell, plus his 3 wins over Nadal back-to-back, and including on the Spaniard’s best surface, are compelling: he is poised to take over Nadal’s No.1 position. Fewer slams notwithstanding, he currently has the Spaniard’s measure. So how do you imagine that is going to be reversed?

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    mel Reply:

    I have no absolutely no compunctions in acknowledging that Djokovic has been the best player this year- the point of this whole discussion was that it is premature to claim that Djokovic is somehow going to dominate Nadal in the H-H and render it as lopsided as Federer’s is to Nadal’s. Tennis is not a linear sport- there are many variables to account for in the continuation of form. The fact that Djokovic has beaten Nadal on clay is indeed an amazing result- but that does not immediately predicate that this run of form is to continue indefinitely or that Nadal cannot stem the tide of losses as you seem to imply. Especially with the FO coming up, I still see Nadal as the presumptive favorite, especially in best of five format. One loss on clay in Madrid does not cancel out the records that Nadal has amassed at Roland Garros. Djokovic may have Nadal’s number now, but there is nothing to say that either Nadal can lift his game or that Djokovic may falter- I cannot prognosticate the future, but I do sincerely believe that until the FO open is over, one cannot proclaim the dirge for Nadal’s career and his H-H with Djokovic.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Fully agree mel. The FO is where its at. Even if Djokovic beats Nadal at Rome it still doesnt mean he can do so at RG. If Djokovic stops Nadal in Paris it will indeed be a big blow. Then there is really nowhere left for Nadal to hide.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Nadal is doing better in HC events than he did earlier in his career now. Before he avoided players which improved his h2h. Why do you think he has faced guys like Roger and Djokovic so much on clay, compared to the overall h2h? Its because he is always making the final of clay court events and always winning it. Clearly he isnt nearly that consistent on hard over his whole career.

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