x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Start of a slide or just a slip for Rafael Nadal?

With his trademark slides and amazing court coverage, Djokovic was returning everything that Nadal blasted across the net.

Nadal takes a tumble on Centre Court yesterday. His opponent, Novak Djokovic, keeps climbing higher.
Nadal takes a tumble on Centre Court yesterday. His opponent, Novak Djokovic, keeps climbing higher.

Rafael Nadal had lost his world No 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic even before a ball had been hit in the men's final of the 125th Wimbledon Championship.

After 148 minutes of high-octane tennis last night, he lost his Wimbledon crown as well.

Djokovic slumped to the ground after Nadal hit the match-point long.

A second later, he was sprawled on his back before getting up quickly to make the sign of the cross.

A little later, he was plucking a few blades of grass and nibbling on it, and then waving to the fans and his team.

At times, he seemed to be on the verge of tears, but then would break into a smile. Djokovic, Nole to his friends, seemed confused at that moment, but through the match, he was in absolute control of his emotions and virtually every point.

Yet, few would had given "the Djoker" much of a chance against a 10-time grand slam champion, who was making his fifth final in as many appearances at Wimbledon, despite the recent history being on Djokovic's side.

The Serbian had got the better of Nadal in all their previous four matches this year, all of them finals.

He was in the form of his life, with the lone defeat in 48 matches this year being to Roger Federer in the semi-finals of the French Open at Roland Garros.

The weight of grand slam history was on the Spaniard's side though. He had won all their five duels in major competitions.

The winner of four of the past five grand slams, Nadal was also on a winning streak of 20 at the All England Club, with his last defeat being the loss to Federer in the 2007 final.

Nadal also boasted an imposing record in grand slams finals, with only two defeats in 12 previous appearances - both to Federer at Wimbledon. In the last six grand slams, he had lost just once in 39 matches.

These statistics were perhaps preying on Djokovic's mind as he stepped out for the match, leading Nadal out to the court by virtue of his ranking.

A few games into the final though, the Serbian was playing at his irrepressible best, flawless and irresistible tennis.

With his trademark slides and amazing court coverage, Djokovic was returning everything that Nadal blasted across the net.

He seemed like a Muhammad Ali out there - floating in defence and stinging in sudden offence. Nadal kept asking the questions and Djokovic had an answer for everything.

The Spaniard was perhaps guilty of being a bit defensive and playing from too far behind the baseline.

This gave Djokovic the opportunity to use the angles and deploy the strategy that had got him the four wins over Nadal earlier this year.

Would the result have been any different had Nadal employed any other plan? That would be mere conjecture.

The fact is, Djokovic is going through the purple patch that you often hear about.

His gluten-free diet and remarkable fitness have added to an arsenal that never lacked in repertoire.

Djokovic is a supremely confident athlete at the moment and the tenacity of Nadal was no match.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

DJOKOVIC'S PERFECT FIVE

The Serbian world No 1 has faced Rafael Nadal in five finals on tour this season, and has come out on top each time.

BNP Paribas Open, California
Djokovic set up his first final meeting of the year against Rafael Nadal by beating Roger Federer 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the semi-finals at Indian Wells. The Serb took his winning run to 20 with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in the final.

Sony Ericsson Open, Miami
The new world No 2 was seeded second for the Masters tournament and lost only eight games en route to the final in Key Biscayne, where again the Spaniard stood in his way. After losing the first set in a match that lasted three hours and 21 minutes, Djokovic again emerged triumphant with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 win.

Madrid Open
Following success on home turf in the Serbian Open, Djokovic headed to Nadal’s back yard for the Madrid Open. He defeated Kevin Anderson, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, David Ferrer and Thomaz Bellucci as he marched to the final. Nadal must have been beginning to be sick of the sight of Djokovic as he then lost in straight sets 7-5, 6-4, extending Djokovic’s winning streak to 34.

Rome Masters
Djokovic dispensed with Lukasz Kubot, Stanislas Wawrinka and Robin Soderling without dropping a set before coming up against Andy Murray in the semi-finals. The Serb prevailed in a thrilling match 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 to come up against Nadal for the fourth time in a final in 2011. Djokovic made it four from four with a 6-4, 6-4 win.

Wimbledon
Djokovic completes his top five in four sets yesterday, winning 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

* Matt Smith