The level of this fight was actually pretty mediocre until the 12th round.
I mentioned in my last post, having just watched these legends square-off in two hugely even sets, that this was a classic. It was. What happened in the 12th of the first set eclipsed said mediocrity and inspired these fighters to continue to raise the level. Hence, my hyperbolic assessment of the match, as a whole.
Serving at 2-4 in the first, Djokovic seemed uninspired, but his visage gave nothing away, in typical superb Serbian expression. If he had lost this seventh game, who knows. He had to maintain the one break deficit. This game lasted over 11 minutes, a bit sloppy from both men, no panic from Novak, and in the end a huge missed opportunity for Rafa.
Again, Novak’s demeanor didn’t betray his struggling form. One might’ve seen a player not feeling the pressure to win Rome. RG is nine days away. Is he already comfortable with his clay? I think we know this to be a poor read of the #1 player in the world. He’s confident, standing on top of the sport, perhaps playing a rival he’s pretty confident he can beat.
Either way, Novak escapes this seventh game, almost luckily, Nadal hitting the top of the net at GP, ball landing wide.
Rafa serving 4-3. Novak surges to 40-0 and Nadal then fights back to deuce. Nadal reaches GP, but Novak’s return is huge, inside-out after side-stepping Rafa’s big serve out wide. Novak converts his BP and we’re even at 4-4.
Novak serving and still struggling. Very little rhythm, flow to the game. Game goes to 15-30, but Nadal still not playing very well either. Missed opportunities. Whether it’s the slop chop of the clay, or Nadal’s over-estimated “confidence,” he just can’t seem to overcome the sloppy Serb.
This ninth game gets to 40-30, Djokovic serving and we perhaps see the shot that awakens the dragon. Huge CC BH, deep and unhittable. 5-4 Djokovic.
More mis-hits from both. Djokovic continues to attempt the drop-shot, trying to find something, but this is a failed strategy. Nadal handles nearly every one flawlessly. Djokovic just getting by. Nadal holds and it’s 5-5.
Djokovic holds, so Nadal serves 5-6. This is the twelfth. Indeed, as far as this story goes, the clock strikes midnight. Nadal gets to 30-0; then an easy FH into the net, 30-15. Another big mis-hit and it’s 30-30. Nadal not looking very good.
But then the tennis, literally, deepens. Big rally, shots finding BL and Nadal lifts a perfect drop-shot that finishes the point. GP Nadal, looking to reach a TB. Another errant FH into the net from the Spaniard so it’s deuce. Another netted lefty FH, moves them to Djokovic set-point #1. Another great drop-shot from Nadal, deuce. Djokovic begins to feed on Nadal FH, deep and unreturnable gives Djokovic set-point #2. Again, deuce, but the tennis is clearly better, the rallies bigger, deeper, the players sensing the moment, Djokovic trying to finish and Nadal to survive.
Nadal serving 80% at this point, the level has arrived, the players are throwing and landing huge blows. Nadal survives another set-point and then we reach set-point #4 where we witness the rally of the year. Here it is:
These two have played more H2H than any other rivals in the history of the game. But you already know this. All of the numbers and language become superfluous compared to the tennis, what the eye feeds the brain, what the heart ultimately sees.
Nadal: “I feel lucky and unlucky at the same time, to be playing in the same era as [Novak].”
So, sure I overstated my enthusiasm a bit in that last post, but the 12th round was a solar eclipse that underscored the emotion of the entire match, the history, the build-up to RG in just over a week.
In light of all of the high end sporting competition going on right now (NBA playoffs, NHL playoffs, international soccer club and league tournaments), tennis, for me, stands above these other sports. Sure there are differences. But when we go to a TB in the second set and Paul Annacone says “Buckle-up,” and Novak is serving, no breaks, no television time-outs – let’s take this to the next level – one ought to realize this sport at this level is the way of the sporting warrior, a level of competitiveness and fitness par excellence.