Djokovic took care of business, brilliantly we might add.
Indeed, we get the 53rd edition of Djokovic v Nadal, which Novak leads 27-25. Calling this rivalry a war is not doing it justice. This should be very good.
Novak’s 0 2 and 2 v Pouille is perhaps more impressive than Nadal’s 3 4 and 0 of Tsitsipas. Granted, Rafa looks almost ridiculously brutal out there, treating his opponents like a punching bag, but Novak came through in similarly dominant fashion last night.
Two quick ways of looking at the general exchange between Novak and Rafa.
1) How well will Novak be able to defend against Rafa’s change-of-direction aggressive penetrations of those back corners, forcing the Serb to scramble and turn that defense-to-offense on a dime, present enough resistance to this hungry and intimidating Rafa offense that will look to shorten points and grab the match’s momentum by the throat? This is a different Rafa. Needless to say, he looks to be on a do-or-die mission here (and we know at least one reason why: the over-hyped double GS).
2) Will Rafa be able to consistently enough beat Novak in this shortened-point approach? Will he win enough points this way? If Novak can extend the rally, advantage most likely goes to the Serb. If this is the case, does Nadal get desperate and go for too much on these “attacks,” trying to end points too quickly?
This might be Nadal’s best chance to outlast Novak, who will certainly be willing to take this to five sets. Does Rafa want to go five sets, try to outlast Novak? Something tells me: No.
I think Novak got a little taste of this style from Pouille, though I am not going to say the Frenchman is hitting or spinning his ball as hard or finding as many lines as the Spaniard. But my point: Novak’s speed, flexibility and sheer uncanny ability to dig and defend as well as he does against these kinds of attacks are pretty much what define the Serb’s genius — his defense and his defense-to-offense mastery.
Other thoughts on this match:
Who will serve better? Who’s ROS will be more effective, damaging?
Looking at each of their draws might help us understand this match, as well.
Nadal, despite playing as such a high-level (I’ve already contemplated a bit this potentially unplayable form), hasn’t played the stiffest competition. Period. I have ridiculed his draw at length (sorry about that — just my twisted sense of humor).
But he hasn’t. He played three average (at best) Aussies and then Berdych, Tiafoe and Tsitsipas. Although the two Next-Gens are very talented, they’re pretty “thin” when it comes to this kind of event.
Novak beat Tsonga, Shapo, Medvedev and Pouille. Let me clarify. Medvedev and Shapo are about as meaningful as Tiafoe and Tsitsipas. But Tsonga is a potentially early difficulty and the Pouille encounter takes into account evidence that Novak might have faced a higher level of competition.
Pouille beat Raonic, who beat Wawrinka and Zverev (I know, ho hum). Pouille beat the talented young Aussie Popyrin and Coric, which most should see as a sign the Frenchman was fairly ascendant in Melbourne. The Coric/Raonic back-to-back is pretty legit.
There’s just more going on in that draw. Novak is just going to be, in general and per the level of tennis he’s had to play in his draw, a higher level of tennis than Nadal has faced.
Nadal had a much easier landscape to negotiate. Dimitrov and Tiafoe. Federer. The Swiss great was really exposed playing his apprentice (Stefanos). In that top of the bottom-half, RBA survived that talent-rich draw, but was just too taxed to do much against Tsitsipas. Cilic and Khachanov going out to RBA were pretty consequential results.
As I conclude this commentary, I must say that I’m still a bit flabbergasted by Nadal’s form. Sure, I might have qualified this incredible run/level with the quality of his draw; but still he’s playing at a very high level. We know this. Interesting to think where this came from.
Djokovic, on the other hand, has been doing this since June/July 2018 or so, our first glimpses of Novak’s return, as we’ve said many times, coming in his Rome SF (May) against Nadal.
We’ll continue to process what we have on the immediate horizon.
I can’t wait.