How great was that?! I’m not gonna lie. It gives me immense pleasure whenever Nadal loses, especially in a slam final. I guess it is that competitive streak in me since I was a tennis player myself. It is not something everyone would understand. Of course being a Fedfan myself contributes to it, but there is just something about Nadal that makes me enjoy his losses greatly. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect him. Some Fedfans just flat out hate Nadal. I don’t. As long as he is on the court it is game on and I want to see him destroyed. But I am not afraid to say that he showed incredible fight in this match and that I respect that. I mean Nadal was simply being outplayed again by Djokovic in the first two sets. In the first set he actually got the break early on to take a 2-0 lead. The wind was blowing early on and I think that worked in his favor.
But Djokovic soon got it together and reeled off six straight games to win the first set. I wasn’t worried in the first set. When Djokovic broke back to make it 2-2 I already tweeted that the match was all over. Djokovic is just that much of a problem opponent for Nadal these days. He has nowhere to go. But despite that Nadal kept up the fight in the second set. Again he got the break to take a 2-0 lead, and after a brutal game with some energy sapping rallies Djokovic got the break back once more. Nadal then got broken once more and another 6-2 set was staring Nadal in the face after getting the break early on again. It must have been demoralizing for Nadal. Yet he fought on and got the break back, only to get broken again at 4-5. Nadal went down two sets to love and could have easily gone away.
The rallies were absolutely brutal and I thought he must be getting tired and demoralized. But he still fought on and broke back Djokovic as he was serving for the match at 6-5 in the third. There were one or two rallies in this match which was absolutely unheard of. As usual Nadal’s defense was beyond anything the imagination can conceive of. Just the fact that he was still able to hang in there with all the running he was doing was mind boggling. He started hitting harder and played more attacking tennis, which in the end won him the third set. I could hardly believe that Nadal was able to pull it off. For the first time in the match I got nervous, especially after seeing Djokovic pull up with a back problem. He barely held serve in the first game of the fourth set and his back seemed to bother him a lot.
This was not good news at all. Would Nadal get the win through a retirement? Djokovic then called for a medical time out. His back appeared better afterwards and the MTO seemed to distract Nadal as he only won one more game afterwards. You got the sense that it was bad karma for him after all those MTO’s he took in his career and disrupted opponent’s rhythm with it. At the beginning of the fourth set I thought Nadal could actually come back and win the match, but the brutally physical third set had obviously taken it’s toll on him. He was losing intensity and Djokovic was once again hitting his stride, pounding winners from the base line. It was beautiful to see. I mean seriously, for how long can a guy keep running down physically unreachable balls like superman without tiring? Something simply had to give.
It was intensely satisfying to see Nadal with his endless moonballing and relentless retrieving simply getting outplayed by Djokovic again. And it was a 6th straight final and a 2nd straight slam final. I mean the ownage is just getting worse for Nadal. Quality wise it was a high quality match, although very different from the Federer/Djokovic semi. The brand of tennis was very different. It is interesting because Roger and Nadal is kind of at opposite ends of the spectrum concerning game style. Roger plays a high risk, first strike type of tennis, while Nadal plays a low risk, counter punching kind of tennis. Djokovic on the other hand can play both. He is great in defense as well as offense. So when Djokovic plays Roger the match takes the shape of skillful attacking tennis, and when he plays Nadal it becomes a physical war from behind the base line.
Clearly I prefer highly skillful, attacking tennis over endless grinding from the base line. I am not implying one is better than the other. It is merely a matter of preference. I’d say the first two sets of the final was not that interesting. Towards the end of the second set and in the third set there was some great intensity and rallies. Seeing two guys leaving it all out there physically and playing some great base line rallies was still good entertainment. But the Federer/Djokovic semi was better drama and more worthy of being the final. In the final you always pretty much knew Djokovic was gonna take it, but in the epic semi there was a plot twist deep in the fifth set when Djokovic came back from two match points down. So once again 30-year-old Roger fared better against Djokovic than Nadal did. It once again comes down to match up.
For years now Nadal fans have harped on the fact that Roger can’t be GOAT because of his head-to-head with Nadal, and now it is coming back to haunt them. I doubt Roger have ever lost to Nadal in six straight finals, including two slam finals. Nadal is well and truly owned by Djokovic, and he doesn’t seem to be making any headway in figuring out a way to beat him. He just hasn’t got anywhere to go against Djokovic. To beat Djokovic you must be able to play incredible first strike tennis like Roger. You gotta have a great serve, great volleys, a great slice, and be able to take the ball early. Djokovic is a good match up for Roger because he has all these things. Nadal doesn’t have a great serve, great volleys, or a great slice, and neither can he take the ball very early. He just isn’t a naturally attacking player.
So I don’t see how he will solve Djokovic. He tried slicing a lot against Djokovic and then he tried to be more attacking in the fourth. It worked somewhat but it just wasn’t enough. Roger has similar match up problems with Nadal because he is left handed and he uses his forehand to break down Roger’s one-handed backhand. That is why I think head-to-head is overrated in determining a GOAT. This is something Sampras has brought up himself, but was his main rival a difficult match up for him? No. There were guys like Krajicek who had winning records over Sampras. Had Krajicek been his main rival he could have ended up with a negative dominating head-to-head against Sampras. Nadal is now finding out what it is like to have a bad match up with his main rival. He has gone from 9-2 in slam finals at the beginning of the year to 10-4 at the end of the year.
This will only continue to get worse for him if he keeps facing Djokovic in slam finals. In some ways Roger losing to Djokovic was not as bad as it first seemed. Having seen Nadal play in the final I still feel it would have been extremely hard for Roger to beat him. Nadal was actually playing very well. It is just that Djokovic is playing very well himself and matches up well with Nadal. It would be an insult to Roger to say he would have lost for sure to Nadal, but I feel it would have been very hard for him taking into account the match up issue. Nadal’s retrieving was as mind boggling as ever. He would have made it extremely hard for Roger. Especially since even the US Open courts have been slowed down this year. Just when you think they cannot possibly slow more courts down they go ahead and do it.
So after the final result I am totally fine with Roger’s loss, even though it hurt so badly at the time. I have already forgotten about it. If Roger had beaten Djokovic and lost to Nadal in the final he would have lost the career slam to Nadal in slam finals, and Nadal would have have come one slam closer to Roger’s record. Instead Nadal got owned even more by Djokovic and his slam record has worsened in finals. You have to respect Nadal for the fact that he keeps making finals with the prospect of losing to Djokovic. It is just not in his mental make up to back off from any challenge, but this may also be his downfall. If he keeps stubbornly making finals and losing to Djokovic, it will ruin his record in finals and he will start to be owned in the head-to-head. By the way I have changed my mind somewhat about what happened with R0ger against Djokovic.
Yes, I am allowed to change my mind sometimes. I do not think that Roger was thinking ahead at possibly facing Nadal at all. I think everything changed when Djokovic hit that brutal return winner on the first match point. I think that shook Roger up and he lost it from there. It showed in his presser after the match as well:
Q. Could you hit a much better serve for the return he hit that winner?
ROGER FEDERER: Yeah, much better. I didn’t hit the best serve. But it’s just the way he returns that. It’s just not — a guy who believes much, you know, anymore in winning. Then to lose against someone like that, it’s very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go.
Q. When a guy hits a shot like that forehand on match point, is that a function of luck, of risk, or is it a function of confidence that someone would make kind of…
ROGER FEDERER: Confidence? Are you kidding me? I mean, please. Look, some players grow up and play like that. I remember losing junior matches. Just being down 5 2 in the third, and they all just start slapping shots. It all goes in for some reason, because that’s the kind of way they grew up playing when they were down. I never played that way. I believe in hard work’s gonna pay off kinda thing, because early on maybe I didn’t always work at my hardest. So for me, this is very hard to understand how can you play a shot like that on match point. But, look, maybe he’s been doing it for 20 years, so for him it was very normal. You’ve got to ask him.
It doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines and realize that Djokovic’s return on match point really shook Roger up. He didn’t do a good job of talking about it in the press afterwards. He seemed irritated in the presser and tried to downplay the return. This is a clear sign that it got to him. So in the end it was just pure brilliance from Djokovic that made the difference. There is a reason he has lost only one match so far and won three slams this year. And that is that the guy is simply a freak. He is coming very close to topping Roger’s 2006 season now. I don’t see how he can ever come close to Roger’s consistency at the top, but this year has been out of this world. You just have to say too good.
So in the end I know that Roger’s loss was very painful, but it may just have been a blessing in disguise. And as I said, I don’t think Roger was worried about facing Nadal in the final either. I am overall very happy with this US Open. As at the French Open, Roger showed some tremendous from and he lost to the better player. It was not so much that he choked either. When you have a player down like that and they come up with a return like that it is normal that it would shake you up. You just gotta say too good and move on. It would still have been a disappointing US Open if Nadal had won the final, but since Djokovic did his job I can’t help but feel satisfied. Roger proved once again that he is still right there with the top players in the world. Sure he did not win a slam this year, but he is after all 30 and is still playing amazing tennis for that age.
I don’t think Roger’s loss will stay long with him either. He gets over these things fast. So for the first time in a while I am pretty positive about Roger’s future. In his presser he also said that he is very hungry for Australia next year. I don’t see any reason he should be thinking of retirement yet. He is right up there with the top two players in the world and things are also very interesting between them. If he retired now I would be disappointed. There are many more dramas to be played out and Roger can still win slams. Onward and upward!
Ps. You can hate Djokovic all you want, but he is the current and future preserver of Roger’s slam record. He is also owning a player who plays the ugliest brand of tennis in the history of the sport and uses gamesmanship on top of it. Hopefully it will cause Nadal to decline fast, but even if it doesn’t it is still awesome to see him repeatedly owned in finals.