Nadal and Djokovic to Square Off for 41st Time in Rome Final

Hello friends. Before I continue with this post let me just clear up something which still does not seem to get through to some people after all this time: This is not a fan blog, it is a tennis blog. Even fan blogs are tennis blogs, because they won’t exist without tennis. I called this blog Ruans Federer Blog because I am a huge fan of Federer, but I am an even bigger fan of tennis. I was a tennis player myself, and I was in love with the sport when I played. I was a fan of tennis the day since I picked up a racquet, which was when I was probably around 8 years old. I don’t remember the exact age because it was too long ago, but the point is that I am not your average tennis fan. It’s easy for me to spot people who are not really tennis fans but fans of a particular player. While I don’t mind these people following my blog it is not what my blog is about.

Federer himself would be the first to admit that he is not bigger than the sport, and he himself is probably the biggest tennis fan in the world. He loves the sport and is always trying to do what is best for it, unlike Nadal who is just looking after his own interests. To think that the player you are a fan of is bigger than the sport is kind of being like Nadal, because you don’t care about the sport as a whole. You just want your player to do well and to hell with the rest. This is not what my blog is about at all. I love tennis as a whole and although Roger is my favorite I take an interest in other players, and I will keep following tennis after Roger has left the sport. For instance I love the Djokodal rivalry because it is so competitive and Djokovic is the first player ever who is a constant threat to Nadal.

And then of course Djokovic is helping to protect Roger’s legacy. If it wasn’t for Djokovic then Nadal would already be on 16 slams and would have that illusive Masters Cup title in the bag, as well as several more Masters Series titles. It is exhilarating for me to watch someone man up to Nadal the way Djokovic has, and of course the favorable match up has a lot to do with that. It is an intriguing rivalry because Djokovic is the first guy who can physically hang with Nadal, while his backhand neutralizes the usual topspin cross court forehand from Nadal which does so much damage to right handers. And especially to those with one-handed backhands like Roger himself. Then Nadal has never had the best serve among the top players and Djokovic can take advantage of that as well with his world class returns.

I know many Fedfans don’t find the Djokodal rivalry interesting in the least, which makes me wonder if they are tennis fans at all. In that case it seems to me like they can only appreciate one style of tennis, and that is not what being a tennis fan is about. A true tennis fan can appreciate many different styles because they love tennis, not just a particular player. Ask any true tennis fan and they will tell you that the Djokodal rivalry is as good as it gets in tennis. And I am not even talking about the pre 2011 Djokodal rivalry. It showed potential back then already but of course Djokovic has transformed as a player since 2011. You really have the perfect match up now with one of the best forehands the game has ever seen against one of the best backhands the game has ever seen.

If you cannot appreciate it I have to seriously question your depth as a tennis fan. The sheer drama and level of tennis these two have displayed is the stuff of legend. They have had some incredible matches like the 2012 Australian Open final and the 2013 French Open final. It doesn’t get any better for sheer drama and quality of tennis. And again if you can’t appreciate those matches then you are not a tennis fan in my book. You may be a Fedfan, but you are not a tennis fan. But let me get back to Rome. Nadal and Djokovic will face off for the 41st time with the head-to-head standing at 22-18 in Nadal’s favor. Now that is what you would call a competitive rivalry, and for the sensitive Fedfans: no, that was not a dig at Roger and the Fedal rivalry. Anyway, yesterday Djokovic defeated Raonic in three very close sets while Nadal destroyed Dimitrov.

I was grateful to be able to watch both matches. I thought Raonic played incredibly well and was deeply impressed with his clay court game. I never thought he could play that well on clay with a game that is best suited to faster surfaces. Djokovic kept threatening his serve in the first set but he kept coming up with clutch plays and then against the run of play won the first set on a tie break. The second set then went down to the wire too and as clutch as Djokovic is he raised his game and won it. Then in the opening game of the third set he broke serve and that proved to be enough to break Raonic’s resolve. Djokovic then broke in the final game for good measure to win the final set 6-3. I was deeply impressed with both players. Djokovic for fending off a rampant opponent after being out of the sport due to injury.

Raonic for showing a clay court game that can hang with the very best. It is nice to see the youngsters coming on so well this year. Dimitrov, Raonic, Nishikori, and Dolgopolov have all showed great form so far this year. Nishikori and Raonic is now both top 10, Dimitrov is top 20, and Dologopolov just outside the top 20 currently. We have waited a while for new talent to make their move and it is good to see the new generation finally arriving. Back to Rome and the Nadal vs Dimitrov encounter turned out to be a blowout with Nadal routining Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2. Nadal looked to be back to his devastating best on clay as he ripped Dimitrov to shreds. Before Madrid Nadal was literally in ruins. Then the top players either withdraws or loses early in Madrid and Nadal’s gets lucky in the final against Nishikori.

Nadal fights through a few more tough three setters in Rome and voila, all of a sudden he is back to his devastating best. This is how fast things can change in tennis, especially if you have a relentless will like Nadal and an unmatched desire to succeed. You can attribute it to luck, but luck explains little. Nadal refuses to accept defeat and in doing so he makes his own luck. Of course he got lucky against Nishikori, but had he given up he would still have lost. He kept trying, even though he was getting destroyed out there. This is the reason Nadal wins many matches he really should be losing, and why people call him lucky. I’m just being brutally honest and fair, and I couldn’t really care less if Fedfans don’t like it. The only thing I answer to is my own conscience. So now we have yet another Djokodal final.

And to predict a winner is difficult. Both players will feel very confident after the way they negotiated their semi-finals. Nadal due to the ease with which he swept aside a very talented youngster, and Djokovic for how clutch he was against another very dangerous youngster. Everyone thought that Dimitrov could be a serious threat to Nadal and yet Nadal made him look like an amateur. A lot of people also thought Raonic would not provide Djokovic with much opposition and again the opposite turned out to be true. I actually think the result of the final could have a bearing on who wins the French Open. If Djokovic wins he would like his chances going into the French Open, given how vulnerable Nadal has looked since Melbourne. So I think this is another important match for Nadal’s confidence.

He has played himself back into form but he has not yet faced a serious threat since doing so. To get his full confidence back he needs to beat Djokovic. If Djokovic beats Nadal it could once again put doubt in his mind, just like he did in the final of Miami. Nadal was building his confidence back up there but look what happened after he lost to Djokovic in that final. Therefor I feel it is crucial that Djokovic beats Nadal if Nadal is gonna be stopped from biting yet another French Open trophy. If Djokovic beats Nadal, an early round exit for Nadal at the French is still on the cards in my opinion. So I really want Djokovic to win today. I have already explained in my last post why I don’t want Nadal to win the French Open this year. And after all this time I think Djokovic deserves the title anyway.

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37 Comments

  1. Good Morning from the US. Great blog post Ruan. The thing about tennis I like for me personally is, I always find myself routing for someone I like better in match. I mostly route for the underdog, unless Federer is playing. In this case, there is no underdog, and I’ll of course be routing for Djoker. I got such a thrill last week when Nickishori was destroying Nadal, and then we know what happened with his back or hip? Anyway, I pray there are no injuries that creep in, so whoever wins, wins without question. This being a Federer blog, I have to mention him as well. I don’t think his loss against Chardy will deter him for next week. I believe he will go deep in the French, now that he is fully rested. All the best to Djoker today, and if he wins, even more reason to believe Nadal will have a tough time at the French.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Cheers Gary.

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  2. This is it, this is the year for djokovic to win RG.
    Lord Federer won it when was 27 I think. Djoker will turn 27 in 4-5 days so it’s about time he completes his own Career Slam.
    Djoker might never win more grand slams than Mr. Federer but I think it’d be nice if he sets up these records:
    1. Win the most masters events. overtaking nadal
    2. Complete career slam twice. It’s difficult but he has to win RG twice and other slams once for each.
    3. Win Olympics in 2016 Rio which will be played on clay.

    BTW Ruan your blog is amazing. I might not be federer fan but I appreciate your posts.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Uchiha. Nice to have you here.

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  3. Hey Ru-an. Good article. If you asked me yesterday in the morning I would have said that Novak will win easily in straights and Rafa will win difficult in 3. And look what happened. The other way around. Easy match for Rafa (feel bad for Dimi) and a very difficult match for Novak. Who did he play anyway? Was that Raonic people make fun of as a ‘only a servebot’? My God, if it was not extremely important for Novak to win (to stop Rafa today), I would be SO SO rooting for Raonic. Does he play this well? I mean, even the number 2 of the world was frustrated (and in my opinion kind of underestimated him).
    Whenever (in the 1st or 2nd set) Novak had an opportunity to break, whalla, there was Raonic, serving his way out with an ace !!! He played incredibly great. I wanted to root so badly for him, but you know the reason why. Still, very very kudos for Novak for hanging on and playing also incredible well. I think they will not underestimate Raonic on clay. So hope he is at RG not in Roger’s draw…

    I thought and think still till today that Rafa was the luckiest player to win Madrid. BUT… have to be honest to, if he wins today against Novak, he will have earned and deserved that. Not that I would like it, but it is the truth. If you can fight your way out of 3 matches you would and should have lost, then… you earn the Rome title.
    Not that Novak does not deserve it too. The way he fought and overcame Ferrer and Raonic, he equally deserves to win Rome.

    I want Novak to win today for 3 reasons:
    1) So that Rafa can experience how it is to go to RG with less confidence and with not knowing if he will win or not.
    2) If Rafa wins, his confidence will be back and be aware all the others, he will win RG.
    3) I would love to see Novak play Roger in the RG final and see who can take advantage of the fact that Rafa is not there and who can win it.
    Ofcourse Novak deserves to win RG and having his 4 GS, but Roger deserves to win RG far and far more to be the first to win all GS twice. A title Rafa does not deserve to have the first.

    So come on Novak, work your magic. You are the only one who can and will defeat Rafa. Go Nole :-)

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    Katyani Reply:

    Oh and one more thing. I like the Rafa/Novak-rivalry. They have great matches that are not boring.
    But Andy/Novak-rivalry is to me boring. Playing the same, long rallies, long matches and not very exciting.
    Also the matches the top 4 play against Delpo are very exciting.
    And ofcourse every match Roger plays :-)

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Agreed Katyani, even for me Djokoray matches are boring.

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  4. Nole playing the net with conviction is the key to him beating Nadal. Even against Roger you can see he’s much less likely to win without crisp net play. Since that blunder in austrailia, it looks like he focused on improving that part of his game more and he needs that to keep nadal guessing.

    P.S sorry about the last incomplete post, I don’t know why it submitted

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  5. Thank you for this wonderful post Ru-an. For me it was one of my most favorite. When you describe your experience with tennis at an early age and being a lifelong player and fan you could have been describing me as well. In fact it’s funny because I could not care less about the Super Bowl, World Series, soccer, racing, but I stay up all night long glued to the tv watching the Australian Open every year, no matter how badly it hurts me the next day at work. Roger Federer just happens to epitomize everything I love about the game. His style of play and of carrying himself w dignity, the variety of strength, touch, creativity, strategy, adaptability endlessly entertain and intrigue me. I actually didn’t start following your blog because it was a Federer blog though. I know a lot of tennis players and fans. Sadly there are only one or two who care or are as knowledgable as I am. When I stumbled apon your blog a few years ago, I was blown away by your knowledge but even more so your great insight and intuition into the game and players. And I was thrilled to find other readers here that shared my passion. You all have together become the friend I want to call after the match. So please do continue to protect this space from becoming a mindless fan page. That’s just boring and what you have built here is way more valuable. Oh, and one last thing. YES, NOVAK WON AND ANOTHER TROPHY GETS KISSED INSTEAD OF BITTEN!!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks for the brilliant comment Eric. I can’t make a long reply now because I have to sleep but will say more tomorrow. Just wanted to say thanks, and yes the Djoker did it!!!

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    elizabeth Reply:

    Hi Ru-an sleep well! Eric many fans of Roger sit bog eyed at all hours
    watching him enthrall us with his wonderful tennis and I’m sure all will
    agree with your post. But Ru-an makes
    it possible for even the less knowledgable of us to post, so Eric please continue to bear with us and forgive me but I just have to say it
    NOVACK DJOKOVIC..YOU ARE A WEE BEUTY

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    elizabeth Reply:

    Sorry can’t spell meant BEAUTY!!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes he is.

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    Eric Reply:

    Hi Elizabeth. I definitely didn’t intend to sound snobby or like a know it all. I thoroughly respect and enjoy the conversations on this board and think that’s what makes it a great place to hang out rather than just a brilliant guy writing articles.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Right Eric. I didn’t mean to sound snobby either. I just tell it like I see it and can’t worry all the time if it will hurt someone’s feelings. This is my blog and I want to be able to freely share my opinion.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    It’s a pleasure having you here Elizabeth and of course anyone is welcome to comment here.

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    elizabeth Reply:

    Many thanks Ru-an,,,the pleasure is all mine! And I didn’t want it to appear as if my feelings were hurt, how can they be NADAL LOST haha x to Eric

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    Ru-an Reply:

    It didn’t sound like your feelings were hurt and it’s good that you are not over sensitive Elizabeth. People like that don’t last long here because I tend to be brutally honest and they just can’t handle it.

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    Katyani Reply:

    Hey Eric, great comment and very true. You should see me at work during AO and USO :-) Sleep deprived, but all worth for the Goat :-)
    And yessssss, Nole did it. Hmmm, becomes a father and all falls well in it’s place. Remind you of someone??? Go Roger :-) And ofcourse congrats Novak !!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Yes Eric it’s nice when you can share with like-minded people who understands the game. I can see you have been a tennis fan for long time and know what’s going on, so your praise means a lot. You can only really appreciate what you know, which means not everyone can appreciate my writing equally. Tennis has always been a big part of my life, so it is only natural that I should know a lot about it. For years I have followed and played the game. I remember always catching the one hour ATP highlight program every week as that was probably the only tennis I had access to outside of the slams. I never missed it and I was always following the tennis results in the paper. I always knew what was going on in the game and who was making a move. I mean the first slam I watched was Becker winning his first Wimbledon in 1985. I was always watching Edberg and Becker battling it out at Wimbledon, Lendl, Wilander, Mcenroe etc. Through all this you can’t help but gain a lot of knowledge, intuition, and insight into the game. It becomes like second nature.

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  6. WOW ! What a result !

    Fourth victory against Nadal in seventeen matches on clay! It is really sweet !!!

    Moreover, this means four wins IN A ROW against Nadal ! I cannot believe it !

    What I like most: 46 winners for Djokovic vs. 15 winners for Nadal!!!

    And don’t forget: this is the first time in 10 years ! that Nadal has lost 3 clay matches in a season.

    Allez Roger: if Djokovic can you also can !

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks for the stats as usual Rahan. Yes it was a very sweet victory indeed. I thought Nadal would win the decider but Djokovic just kept his high level from the second set up and even surpassed it. Amazing that Djokovic hit 3 times the winners Nadal did. Nadal is a pusher basically.

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    rahan Reply:

    Yes, you are perfectly right in writing “Nadal is a pusher basically” .

    But the ratio 1 to 3 is IMHO amazing. I just don’t understand why he doesn’t attack more ? Is he just waiting for the mistakes and failings of his adversary ?

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    Eric Reply:

    I think Nadal would love to attack, but Djoker’s shots are so damn consistantly deep that Nadal can’t find an opening to move into the court and dictate points. Look at Djoker’s returns practically hitting the center mark of the base line. Nadal comes down from his serve and the ball is already at his ankles in the middle of the court. No angles to be created from there. I tell you it must be soooooooo frustrating for Nadal and I LOVE it!! Depth kills and Djoker is the master of it.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Well said Eric. You are right. Djokovic’s returns and depth of shot has Nadal constantly under pressure and makes it near impossible to be more attacking. But Nadal have solved that problem in 2013. Djokovic hiring Becker and becoming a more attacking player may also have something to do with Djokovic’s recent domination of Nadal.

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  7. more chinks in the armor….it seems to me Nadal counts on blowing everyone during the clay season and using that momentum and intimidation to carry over into the grass and hard court seasons. Those days are over. It just seems like people are not as afraid of him. Not just Djokovic’s win, but the fact that he only won Madrid cause of Kei’s injury and needed three sets in every match this week (except one) to win. It’s wearing him down. If he doesn’t win the French this year, I honestly wonder how many slams he can win. Still possible and he’s tough to write off, but he is aging and wearing down and his game is exhausting. He gets so few easy points with his serve.

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    Katyani Reply:

    Hey Jim, yes, Rafa too is getting older. If he does not win RG, he might win it next year, but I cannot see him winning anything else. I mean, Stan showed all the players the way. And now everyone from Almagro to Youzhny is taking advantage of that.
    But that is not a bad thing, tennis goes on and players improve. It happened to the best and it will happen to all of them: they will be figured out.
    Roger was so dominant, almost unbeatable, until Rafa came along and showed a ‘weak’ part in his game. He was succesfull, then all the others believed and did the same. Now… it is happening to Rafa. Players saw how Novak showed a ‘weak spot’ in Rafa’s game. Then Stan made it more obvious. Now all the other players start believing and start executing it too.
    Same will happen to Novak too. Rafa and Roger are basically (oke with Andy) the only ones who can beat Novak. There will come a time when he is figured out too. Goes also for the others. It is just part of the game.

    Ps: Rafa never has been a player who serves a lot of aces, has he??

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  8. Isn’t it funny Ru-an and guys. Before Stan beat Rafa at AO, we were a night before all basically saying that he might equal Roger even this year and now…. we are saying that we can all see him only win like one or two more RG :-) How fast things go.

    By the way, Nole has 3 more ATP 1000 titles to go before he overtakes Roger in that. But to be honest, if he does that…. it will be totally deserved.

    If Roger cannot win RG, then Go Novak, you have my blessing and I will be rooting for you. But first Roger :-)

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  9. Great long post, Ru-an! What a terrific final! This had to be the best Masters so far this year; not only the final but so many other great matches in the earlier rounds too. I thought Murray/Nadal was good and wasn’t Raonic outstanding playing Djoko?! I’ve never really been impressed with Raonic but that match against Djoko was outstanding. He was returning so well and his groundstrokes and movement have improved so much. Djoko looked a little lost there for a while! Lubicic has really done a great job with Raonic. It has been great to see the other young guns doing well too. I agree Djokodal is one of the best rivalries; but I feel it has gotten better as Djoko has learnt precious lessons from that marathon AO2012 final and now plays more aggressively and ending points earlier. He was so good at the net last night. I used to get really bored with Djokodal just hitting the ball back and forth but I thought last night the rallies were rather short by their standards! When these two play, they are out for blood. You never know who’s gonna win. When one plays better or ups a gear, the other one ALWAYS responds. There is no giving up on ANY point or game, even at championship point! I must say I have grown to appreciate this rivalry; mostly because Djoko has become more aggressive and added more variety. And just to see him bullying Nadal was just ecstasy! haha! Nadal just couldn’t tell where Djoko was gonna hit! Losing Rome almost completes Nadal’s slump. Djoko looks in devastating form now to take FO, provided of course if his arm/wrist injury is under control. But wait, not so fast!! There is still one player, one player only who still can make Djoko uncomfortable….Yesss! Roger! Common Roger, GET your form BACK and let’s take FO and Wimby this year!!

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Thanks Mirka! Yeah Djokovic or someone else has to complete Nadal’s slump at the FO. I have not changed my opinion that Nadal won’t win the FO this year, and I think what happened in the Rome final supports my opinion. An early round upset for Nadal is not even impossible, but of course he can go all the way to the final again and do what he did last year. I just feel like things are not going his way this year and I find it hard to believe that he can do that again. As for Roger if it is him and Novak in the semis and Nadal is waiting in the final it will probably be better if Djokovic wins. I don’t want to see Roger saving Nadal’s ass again like he did in 2011.

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  10. This is fascinating. How did he solve it in 2013? Was it that Novak dipped in form and wasn’t quite placing his shots so perfectly or did Nadal really find a solution somehow?

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    Ru-an Reply:

    I noticed in the USO ’12 final that Nadal was already trying to outhit Djokovic, while Djokovic was not finishing points as fast as he should have. He got sloppy. Combine the two factors that I mentioned and you can see how things swung around. Nadal made Djokovic pay for his sloppiness and started being more aggressive himself. It worked until recently until Djokovic realized he needed to make a change and hired Becker. It was a risky change but he could afford to take a risk after all the losses to Nadal. The change didn’t pay off right away which is to be expected, but I think it is really starting to pay dividends now.

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  11. This ebb and flow amongst the best in the game is absolutely fascinating. How they keep figuring each other out and taking it to the next level. I was thinking about the effect of Djoko on the whole GOAT debate. Nadal fans say the Fedal head to head makes it impossible for Fed to be the GOAT because he is dominated by someone in his own era. But what happens if the Djokodal head to head goes the way I suspect, heavily in Djoko’s favor? That argument goes right out the window. Nadal dominates Fed and Djoko dominates Nadal, so it comes down to stats and Grand Slams. I sure hope Fed can rally to muster one more glorious slam this year while Murray, Nadal, Tsonga, and Delpo are all suffering a bit – and the DjokoFed matchup is a good one for us. It’s going to be hard, but I have to believe this year it really is possible.

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    Veronica Reply:

    “Figuring it out each other…” Well said, Eric! That is the key to ensure you stay on top of your game and you keep improving and growing. Roger used to be a master at figuring out players. But he couldn’t and maybe didn’t take it too seriously figuring out Nadal. He paid the price. There is no room for stagnancy in today’s game.

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    Ru-an Reply:

    Djokovic can never dominate Nadal the way NAdal dominated Roger. Nadal still leads the h2h 22-19 and the slam h2h 8-3, so it’s impossible for Djokovic to own Nadal. That said, the h2h argument is overrated. Slam titles are way more important than a h2h.

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