Posts Tagged ‘rafael nadal’
Less than a month into the new tennis season and the ATP tour has exploded into life, with the world’s best two players once again at the heart of the drama.
Following a sporting year like the one Novak Djokovic had in 2011, it is always interesting to see the response of the competitor once a new season begins.
Across various sports, there have often been examples where either a team or an individual have put so much into reaching impossible heights within the space of one season, only to find that their efforts have taken a toll physically and mentally in a way which has lasting consequences.
It was clear – and understandable – that Djokovic was tiring towards the end of the 2011 ATP season, and while his status as world number one was never in doubt, he was always going to find that 2012 would ask a different set of questions.
Could last year’s extraordinary season possibly be repeated? Could Djokovic fend off renewed and determined challenges from Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal? Would there even be scope for yet more improvement?
If the Australian Open is anything to go by, the answer to those questions has been emphatically positive.
There remains much for the Serb to do in order to earn a place among the game’s greats, but even though his third Australian Open title ranks as his most memorable triumph, his two most likely rivals have also laid down a strong statement of intent for the season and will themselves emerge from the two-week tournament with a great deal of credit.
Andy Murray fought Djokovic all the way to a tense fifth set conclusion in the semi finals and has the potential to pose an equally strong challenge if he can build on his Australian showing.
Nadal meanwhile, beaten on every occasion he faced Djokovic last year, spoke of how he had lost some of his passion for the sport towards the end of last year after a tough season.
But he also acknowledged that he needed to work harder if he was to get back to competing at the top.
The Spaniard shown a determination during the Australian final that has been missing from his game since losing the US Open final in September, and the evidence from Melbourne is that Nadal’s hunger has returned.
Djokovic won many plaudits for the way he battled against Nadal, one of the game’s greatest competitors, for almost six hours. Less attention was given to the fact that the reverse was also true, and there’s no other player on the tour at the moment who could compete with Djokovic throughout a match lasting so long.
That Nadal even lost the match was in some ways his own doing, when taking into account some of his errors at crucial times, most notably in the final set when, already a break up, he missed an opportunity to cement his advantage by hitting the ball out at the net with the whole court to aim at.
Djokovic himself faulted on a shot at 5-3 up in the fourth set tie break, but having turned that around to take it into a deciding fifth set, Nadal had no margin for further mistakes.
The major error he did make, which set Djokovic on the way to breaking back, didn’t just ensure that the contest was levelled, but swung momentum back in Djokovic’s favour at a time when it looked like he was heading for certain defeat.
The thin line between success and failure was visibly demonstrated and if there was ever a match which deserved to be called a draw, this was it.
Unfortunately for Nadal there did have to be a runner-up, but if the match is a taste of what this growing rivalry will offer during 2012, he’ll have many more opportunities and it certainly won’t be long before he takes one.
Andy Murray may still be without a Grand Slam title but after his performance against Novak Djokovic earlier today, there’ll be a growing number of people who believe that it is only a matter of time before that changes.
Under the coaching of Ivan Lendl – himself a four-time Australian Open finalist, winning two – Murray has already shown signs of progression.
The contrast between the tame, straight sets defeat that Murray suffered in last year’s final, and today’s match could not have been greater.
The 2011 Australian final was not even a contest. Djokovic went into the competition on the back of an impressive run of form which began in the summer of 2010 and included a series of outstanding performances in the US Open, a tournament which he would have seen success in had it he not faced an inspired Rafa Nadal in the final.
Casual British observers and sections of the British press got excited at the prospect that Murray would finally lift a Grand Slam title, based on the fact that he wasn’t up against Federer or Nadal. But to the majority, Djokovic was the in-form red-hot favourite and the win that he went on to secure was the first of many during a record-breaking calendar year.
Twelve months on, Djokovic remains the best tennis player in the world. Not only a supremely talented player, but one who is now up there with the toughest competitors on the tour, able to match even the likes of Nadal and Hewitt for sheer guts and determination.
None of those players know when they are beaten and that has often been an area where Murray has let himself down during the majors. While he provides a match for any player, both in terms of desire and ability, he has shown a tendancy to self destruct at crucial times, particularly when matches have started to slip away.
There was none of that today, though.
After losing the first set to Djokovic and then suffering an immediate break of serve in the second to go 0-2 down, Murray dug deep and took six of the next seven games, including three straight breaks of the Djokovic serve to level the match.
He took the next set, too, after saving five set points.
Djokovic ran away with the fourth and looked all set for victory after securing the all important break in the fifth and final set on the way to establishing a 5-2 lead. Murray again needed to give everything he had in order to hold serve and stay in the game, and followed up by breaking Djokovic to love.
The quality of tennis on display was breathtaking, with neither player showing the signs of fatigue that they’d have been fully entitled to show following the effort that both had given.
In the end it was Djokovic who survived a trio of break points which Murray earned at 5-5, and he went on to break the Scot and qualify for his third Melbourne final, and his seventh at Grand Slam events.
Unlike the aftermath of Murray’s previous Grand Slam final defeats, which have all been in straight sets, or following the brutal beatings handed out to him by Rafa Nadal at Wimbledon and US Open last season, no questions will need to be asked of Murray’s performance this time.
It would be premature to get too carried away after an improved showing on what has traditionally been Murray’s favourite surface of all the grand slams, but after matching the world’s best for five hours, he has emphatically answered the question of whether he genuinely has what it takes.
As Djokovic did last year, Murray needs to maintain such a level consistently. If he does, his time will not be far away.
Congratulations to Andy Murray after winning the Cincinnati Masters title last night.
The win, achieved after Novak Djokovic retired midway through the second set, will set Murray up perfectly for another shot at the US Open, which starts next week.
Many feel that the New York based tournament represents Murray’s best chance of securing his first Grand Slam title, and he will also have boosted his confidence by claiming a win over a man who over the last nine months has been virtually unbeatable.
Djokovic’s had already lost the first set and trailed by a double break in the second when he retired due to injury, but that shouldn’t take away from Murray’s triumph.
The Scot has proved time and time again that he is capable of competing with the very best, as his head-to-head records against Federer and Nadal will confirm.
If Djokovic goes into the US Open with doubts over his fitness, then Murray must be considered as likely a winner as any at the tennis calendar’s final major of the year.
Coupled with the indifferent form of Roger and Rafa, there’s no reason why Murray shouldn’t feel as though his first big success is just around the corner.
Unless you were hoping for a British winner, Wimbledon once again failed to let us down.
There may have been only few major shocks, but there were plenty of results which would have taken the majority by surprise, and certainly no shortage of drama.
Nothing particularly new has been learnt, but a couple of things have been further confirmed by the event’s latter stages.
Firstly, Andy Murray, as good as he is, just isn’t good enough to beat Rafael Nadal at his best. At Wimbledon anyway.
Evidence of Nadal’s brilliance was in no short supply during his semi final with the British number one, but the error count was one of the more telling statistics. In a Wimbledon semi final against a player of Murray’s calibre, a tally of seven unforced errors across four sets is almost as close to perfection as is possible to achieve.
Murray is capable of beating Nadal, and there’s no doubt he’ll prove it multiple times during the remainder of his career. But despite many pundits suggesting Murray was favourite to win their contest this time around, the Spaniard remains simply too strong for Murray at SW19.
The past two weeks have also proved beyond doubt that Novak Djokovic is looking to remain at the top of men’s tennis. 50 wins from 51 matches this year have catapulted him to number one in the world. Barring an almighty change in fortunes, which would need to be combined with Rafa Nadal successfully defending the US Open title later this year, Djokovic will end 2011 in top spot.
Anyone doubting whether he could maintain the explosive form which he showed at the start of the year have long been forced to re-consider. So too those who suggested Nadal would be too strong for him during the clay court season. And now, those who failed to see Djokovic conquering Wimbledon will, too, have been proved wrong.
Just as Nadal failed to be overwhelmed by Federer’s total dominance and rose to the challenge of reaching, even surpassing, the level at which Federer was at, Djokovic has refused to accept his place alongside Murray as “best of the rest”. While so often failing to reach his potential at Grand Slam level, Djokovic has showed occasional glimpses of what he is capable of, most notably during some epic matches at the US Open.
He has now added consistency and a greater confidence to his game and is reaping the rewards. Most of the questions asked of him are being answered, and attention will now turn to the likes of Nadal, Murray and Federer, and how they will respond.
The only big question remaining for Djokovic to answer is whether he can remain on top, year after year.
As expected, the French Open gave us a dramatic couple of weeks of tennis.
The women’s competition provided the first ever Chinese Grand Slam champion, in Li Na. In the men’s singles, things seemed no different to so many years of late with Rafa Nadal picking up a sixth title, and Roger Federer yet again the beaten finalist.
It was far more dramatic than statistics alone may suggest, however.
Nadal may have gone into the competition holding three of the four Grand Slam trophies. But the form of Novak Djokovic over the previous six months was grabbing far more attention.
His unbeaten record, which during the tournament went on to become the longest ever unbeaten start to a year, had included wins over Nadal in four separate finals. Two of which had come on clay, a surface on which Nadal is widely considered to be the greatest player in tennis history.
The two would only meet in the final, should they have both made it that far.
Stuttering form in the early rounds suggested Nadal would be lucky ever make it to the final, but he saved his best tennis for meetings with Robin Soderling and Andy Murray, both of whom were dispatched from the competition in straight sets.
Djokovic meanwhile had cruised through to the semi finals, and needed only to beat Roger Federer to set up another final with Nadal, and guarantee top spot in the ATP World Tour rankings.
While Federer had been the other form player throughout, few had even given him a chance. But it was the Swiss who finally ended Djokovic’s 43 game winning run.
The most decorated tennis player in the Open era was enjoying the lack of pressure, simply getting on with what he’s always done best, and illustrating quite emphatically that on the biggest stages in the game, he is still amongst the men to beat.
After four previous losses to Nadal at Roland Garros, three of them in a final, it would have been something of a fairy-tale ending for Federer had he finally clinched a win over the Spaniard.
Nadal himself had plenty to play for, needing a win in the final to maintain his number one ranking, and it his absolute refusal to be beaten which proved decisive in a gripping and closely fought final.
It might just have been the hardest fought of all of his six French Open titles but like a true champion, Nadal did what was required to achieve success, even when Djokovic’s form was causing many to write off his chances.
Federer and Nadal have now won a total of 26 Grand Slam titles between them. For Djokovic, as well as Andy Murray, it’s a statistic which highlights just how far they must go before really being able to compare with two of the game’s all time greats.
The French Open tennis championships start on Monday, and it should be a cracker.
Gone are the days when Rafa Nadal would almost be presented with the trophy before the competition began. And that is thanks to the rampant form of Novak Djokovic who, if you include his two Davis Cup wins, currently holds a record of 39 straight wins.
The overall record of 46 consecutive wins is now in his sights – but he’ll have to win in Paris to reach that target.
Standing in his way will be Nadal, a man who until only 4 months ago was expected to continue his form of 2010 and a dominance of the sport which stretches back to the beginning of the last year’s clay court season.
But, crazy as it may seem for a player who still holds three of the four Grand Slam titles available, and has been beaten only once at Roland Garros in his entire career, Nadal faces a huge test if he is to be crowned French Open champion for the sixth time.
Nadal himself has been in fine form during 2011. He’s secured his usual titles at Monte Carlo and Barcelona and reached the final of all five Masters 1000 events to have taken place on the ATP Tour so far this year.
The problem though, is that he’s lost four of them, all to Novak Djokovic. Monte Carlo was Nadal’s only success of the five, and even that could be attributed to the fact that Djokovic wasn’t present.
Rafa’s defeats in Miami and Indian Wells were both on surfaces which Djokovic favours, but the Serb has so far proved equally unbeaten on Nadal’s favourite surface.
If the two meet in the Paris final in just over two weeks, then Djokovic will take over the number one ranking, regardless of the outcome.
It all sets up a fascinating couple of weeks of tennis and I for one cannot wait.