Rafa is still the undisputed king of clay even though Novak Djokovic staged a fight back in the second set of the Monte Carlo final on Sunday. Rafa won a fifth straight title with a score of 6-3, 2-6, 6-1, confirming his top spot in the ATP rankings as well. The last time Rafa lost a set to anyone at Monte Carlo was in 2006 against the Swiss Master himself. The Djoker has not been himself of late so he wasn’t expected to give the world number one too many problems, but judging by the quality of his play against Rafa it is quite possible that he is back to the form that saw him win the Australian Open in 2008.
Where Andy Murray held his own for a set against Rafa, the Djoker went one further and won a set. Two thirds through the first set there was nothing to choose between the two. But in one of many long service games the Djoker got broken when serving at 3-3. He played a good game but then something seemed to be wrong with his back after which he played two less then perfect points to lose his serve. Just that little lapse from the Djoker was enough for Rafa to take the set 6-3. Until that point the standard of tennis was very high indeed and the Djoker was holding his own against probably the best clay court player of all time.
After Djokovic had back problems he took and injury time out and after that the back seemed to be fine. In the second set he continued his high quality play and it paid off as he broke Rafa twice to take the set 6-2. That was a big achievement in itself. What makes Nadal such a difficult opponent is that you have to play at an incredibly high level all the time, not just in patches. It was the same when Roger was dominating men’s tennis. Players could play one amazing set but it wouldn’t be enough because Roger would play like that all the time.
So when the third set started the Djoker’s level dropped ever so slightly and that was enough for Rafa to run away with the set 6-1. I just don’t see anyone beating Rafa at Roland Garros this year again. Roger doesn’t look the part and even if he gets his game back together by the time the tour swings around Paris I don’t see how he can beat Rafa. First of all he would need to make some major adjustments to his game which he has shown no intention of doing thus far, and even if he did it there is still no guarantee he would beat Rafa on clay.
Judging by what happened at Monte Carlo the Djoker must be the number one contender for now, and then Murray, Wawrinka, Verdasco and Davydenko when he is match fit. The Djoker can take a set as he has shown against Rafa but then it gets to hard to maintain that high level of play. It does look like we are in for another very predictable clay court season with Rafa winning most of the important titles, including the French Open. And who knows for how many years this may yet continue. For now there is no one on the horizon that looks like dethroning the Spanish Bull. If Roger couldn’t do it who would?!
Nadal’s game is such that if an opponent doesn’t play out of their minds for an entire match they won’t beat him. And there is no one out there that can play at such a high level for so long. Roger came the closest of them all. He could stay with Rafa pretty much throughout an entire match, but still Rafa had the edge. In the French Open matches that they played, except for the last one of course, Roger could also play one very good set. But then Rafa’s consistency would eventually win the day. His strokes just have such a small margin for error and he is physically out of this world.
The down side of that game is that he must really work for his wins because it is a defensive style for the most part. On clay that is perfect because the surface is easy on the physique and it is simply the most effective way to play on clay. But on hard courts Rafa has to work really hard against quality opposition. This year for instance we saw it in the Australian Open semi’s and finals where he played two marathon matches. When Roger was at the top he never played two matches in a row like that on a hard court, or any surface for that matter.
Roger’s game is pretty much effortless. He can get a lot of cheap points with his serve, he has a big forehand, he can volley well, he takes the ball early and he has that genius factor. All of these things make Roger an awesome sight to behold when he is at his best. There is just no words to describe how easy he can make the game look when he is at his best. I really hope we will see him play that tennis again and I think there is a good chance. The guy has won 13 slams, surely he will be back. I know I said in my previous post nothing is guaranteed but maybe I was being a little pessimistic.
Surely someone who has won 13 grand slam titles is not just gonna fade away like that. I think for Roger it’s just a question of sticking around. He is too good not to find some confidence again if he does that. And when he does, watch out! Remember what happened to Sampras when he won his last grand slam, people had already written him off but he won one or two matches at his last US Open and went on to dominate the way he did before, sweeping aside anyone that came in his way. I’d like to see Roger do the same, but it has to be said Sampras didn’t have a Murray or a Rafa standing in his way.
There wasn’t really anyone who ‘owned’ Sampras in that way as far as I can remember. Sure he had a few tough opponents but in the grand slams he still beat them. For now Roger hasn’t been beaten by Murray in a grand slam but if he plays like he does now and meets Murray in a slam I’m afraid he might have a lot of trouble. As for Rafa, he has beaten Roger now in al the grand slams except for the US Open. This is also the most difficult slam for Rafa to win because it’s the fastest conditions of all the grand slams.
It’s the one grand slam where Roger is still probably the favorite against Rafa and it is where I feel he needs to strike. But it is also the slam where Murray has his best chance. Murray may be even a bigger threat for Roger at the US Open. When Sampras won his last US Open he lost the previous two years to Hewitt and Safin in the final. The year he won it Agassi beat Hewitt in the semi’s, so he eliminated a potential problem opponent for Pete. Maybe something similar could happen at the US Open for Roger.
He would be hard pressed to beat both Rafa and Murray there, but if one of them could eliminate the other that could just be enough. We will have to see. Like I said Sampras didn’t have problem opponents the way Roger have so I do feel like Roger would need to make a change against these opponents anyway. I mean lets be honest, even if he plays the way he did when he was at his dominant best he could still struggle against these opponents because they have figured him out. So he would have to change something to get back on an even keel with them.
One of my readers said that Roger said in a press conference the reason he is trying to finish points early is because of his back problem and that he feels silly about doing so. If that is the case it adds a whole new dynamic to the situation of course, but I have no proof that he actually said that. I actually hope he said that because sometimes I am dumbfounded that an experienced player like Roger doesn’t make the tactical adjustments like he should.So if that reader is out there please send me the proof if you have it.
It would be nice to know there is something other then the mental problems that is plaguing Roger these days. At least if we know he is injured we know he has no other choice. I’m sorry I haven’t posted the last couple of days but I’ve had some problems with my internet. This post should give you something to wrap your tennis brains around for a while