x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Beating Rafael Nadal on clay is true test for Novak Djokovic

This week in Madrid, however, should offer an insight of how far the unbeaten Serb has come as an all-surface champion, and how much further he might yet go.

Novak Djokovic, in action on his way to winning in Belgrade on Sunday, will be looking to maintain his 100 per cent record in 2011 in Madrid this week.
Novak Djokovic, in action on his way to winning in Belgrade on Sunday, will be looking to maintain his 100 per cent record in 2011 in Madrid this week.

After four months, 2011 clearly has been the Year of Novak Djokovic. The young Serb won the five tournaments he has entered, including the Australian Open. He is unbeaten in 27 matches and has lost only six sets from 65.

He has a pair of wins over both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, and has climbed over the former to No 2 in the world rankings.

This week in Madrid, however, should offer an insight of how far Djokovic, 23, has come as an all-surface champion, and how much further he might yet go.

After four championships on hard courts and a title Sunday in a tournament on clay in Belgrade, Djokovic rejoins the main tour for the first time since Miami.

He took off three weeks with what he described as a "knee injury", missing clay events at Monte Carlo and Barcelona at which Nadal was untouchable.

At Madrid, clay specialists such as Jose Ferrer lie in wait, and Nadal himself, unbeaten on the surface since 2009, is likely to be in the final, if Djokovic lasts that long.

Djokovic is a better player than he was a year ago. He seems fearless, even when Nadal or Federer are on the other side of the net, and he has shown new maturity. He may not have the raw power of Nadal, but he appears to be the better athlete. He also seems to have conquered the breathing problems that troubled him in the past.

After losing to Djokovic at Miami, Nadal said: "He can run to every ball. Seems like he's less tired than before when he runs a lot. He can play long points and still be running."

Mardy Fish, the American, was impressed by the Djokovic who stormed through his first four tournaments. "He's hitting his forehand as good as anyone in the world," Fish said. "His two-handed backhand is the best in the world, in my opinion. And he's serving well again. When you watch him play, it's really not that surprising he hasn't lost yet, because he's playing so well."

Clay, however, is a different world. Nadal has dominated Djokovic on the red dirt: nine matchups, nine Nadal victories.

Those who possess sufficient imagination to envision Nadal losing on clay suggest Madrid is the venue where Djokovic could pull it off. The theory is that Madrid's dry and lofty location makes clay there a quicker surface, and more hospitable to the Serb.

Fish said: "Rafa moves better on a clay court. It will be interesting to see Novak's results there."

And telling, as well.

The week in tennis

Men’s tour last week

Novak Djokovic won in Belgrade, Nikolay Davydenko, the Russian, took the title in Munich and Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine player, was champion in Estoril, Portugal. Djokovic, playing in his first tournament on clay this year, won his fifth title of 2011 and extended his winning record to 27 matches.

ATP rankings
Player Country Points
1. R Nadal ESP 11,915
2. N Djokovic SRB 9,710
3. R Federer SUI 8,690
4. A Murray GBR 5,815
5. R Soderling SWE 5,235

Women’s tour this week
Roberta Vinci  of Italy defeated Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 on Sunday to win the Barcelona Open, her fourth singles title. Also, Anabel Medina Garrigues of Spain defeated Kristina Barrois of Germany 6-1, 6-2 to win the Estoril Open, for her 10th career success. It was her ninth title on clay, tying her with Serena Williams for most among active female players.

ATP rankings
Player Country Points
1. C Wozniacki DEN 9,970
2. K Clijsters BEL 8,115
3. V Zvonareva RUS 7,615
4. F Schiavone ITA 4,892
5. V Azarenka BLR 4,630

Matua Madrid Open
Place: Madrid, Spain
Duration: Until Sunday
Prize Money: US$5.5 million (Dh20.2m) (men); $4.5m (women)
Surface: Clay
Defending champion: Rafael Nadal (men)
Aravene Rezai (women)

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