I’m not a numerologist, but do those numbers mean something deeper, or is this just part of the statistical debris left blowing around Philippe-Chatrier following the 2020 men’s French Open final in which Rafael Nadal steamrolled Novak Djokovic 0 2 and 5.
I kid you not: after the first two games of the match, I thought Wow, that was way too easy: this looks like another routine Nadal French final.
You know me. I wanted to blog this, get it over with, share this strong premonition with as many tennis faithful as I could.
But A) that might look foolish 😀 and B) I should be patient; I might be wrong, we’re only two games in, and Novak might stage an epic comeback. From down 0-2 games, first set. Slow your roll, Mcshow.
But the alarms were going-off.
The red flag warning consisted of how comfortable Nadal looked and how uncomfortable or even rattled Djokovic looked — in the first two games!
Sure Novak might be able to pull-off this victory, but a good start seemed almost essential. I really did think Novak had more than enough in terms of his ball striking, serve and court coverage, along with his mental strength.
Aside from my own eye test, we all heard the news about five minutes before the match started that they had closed the roof. The announcement pointed-out that despite some rain earlier, which prompted the closure, Paris was then enjoying a beautiful October afternoon.
But keep it closed anyway?
Most know that the closed roof favors Djokovic; this development many believed enhanced the Djokovic-friendly conditions that included colder seasonal temperatures and wetter, heavier conditions overall. Nadal’s FH, for instance, wouldn’t bounce as high, etc. Some might have thought of that 2018 Wimbledon SF between these two for which the roof over Center Court was closed.
So there we were, just as these players are warming-up, hearing all of this talk of playing conditions favoring the Serb, who happens to be ranked #1 in the world, has beaten Nadal 10 times in their last 13 meetings dating back to 2015, has been really dominating the tour following his most recent Djokollapse back in 2016-17, has beaten him on clay several times, including here at RG, and so forth and so on.
I liked him in this match, which you and I both know is part subjectivity getting the best of me. Many of you are well aware that I’m responsible for the Department of Nadal Studies at the University of Mcshow where the study of Nadalism continues to thrive.
Folks, that was a beat-down and here’s my main claim for this post about that match (you know I’ll have subsequent posts):
the conditions might not have favored Nadal, but they troubled Djokovic maybe more. On top of that, on top of Nadal having a great day with incredible form, Djokovic had a terrible day and, yes, I do think the conditions affected his play, how he played under those conditions, along with how Nadal approached these conditions.
The conditions were slower? Is that what you’re telling me? The bounce of the ball off the court, even with Nadal top-spin, didn’t have that May/June jump? This affected Djokovic, as well. He could not hit the ball through the court. Sure, Nadal has incredible (stupid really) side-to-side BL coverage, but Djokovic can always find an angle, coming forward perhaps, Nadal on his heels, etc., to finish a rally.
This didn’t happen. No aces (essentially) and really no finishing shot in those rallies. From GAME 1 of the first set, you could see that Nadal was tracking everything, that Djokovic would have to work unbelievably hard for a point, even on his serve, starting from GAME 1.
The unforced error discrepancy reared its head, of course. That was probably the difference in the match. I read Nadal ended-up with 14 to Djokovic’s 52 for the match. Through the first couple of sets the difference approximated looked more like 5 to 26 (don’t quote me on that, but this was Djokovic getting Djokoviced).
That element of their form, their efficiency, seems to really tell the story of this match, especially through those very important first two sets.
But I thought the conditions hurt Djokovic. He suffered too from the slower conditions.
Court position played into this. We saw Novak drop deep on return, even on second serves. What the fuck was that? He didn’t hug the baseline, take control of the exchanges, get into a position to finish a point. He chased.
Nadal was the aggressor (with the best defense), the hunter, and Djokovic remained for 97% of this match the hunted.
But Novak just didn’t have “it” today either. Very little energy, seemingly. We finally saw some emotion, towards his box, the crowd, etc., in that third set.
My two biggest take-aways from this match were 1) The conditions hurt Djokovic along with his defensive court positioning and 2) Nobody approaches a pivotal point, game, set or match like Rafa.
He couldn’t lose this match (was what his play communicated to us all). He would not stand for one second the idea that he would not reach 13, 100 and 20. No way. He came out firing, flawlessly, yet almost recklessly (recklessly flawless?).
He never loses a FO final. But today he played like there was some uncertainty, some remote possibility that he would succumb to the equally motivated Serb.
Rafa painted another classic, sculpted another masterpiece because some of us (including Rafa perhaps) entertained a brush of doubt.
Novak never had a shot.
I’ll mull-over this one a bit more and share some thoughts on the bigger picture tomorrow. Nadal and Federer are tied at 20.
And there you have it.
Congrats to Rafa.