An outstanding year and it keeps getting better. Novak Djokovic continued his dream 2011 campaign, beating Rafael Nadal for a sixth consecutive final, winning his fourth grand slam title, his third in 2011 (only the sixth player in the Open Era to reach that mark) and his first US Open, while so far losing only two matches all year. This isn’t just a great tennis year, this is one of the more impressive achievements in all of sports.
I don’t remember the last time I actually wanted Nadal to win. Djokovic’s oozing confidence comes off as arrogant – the dancing after a slightly lucky win over Roger Federer in the Semi Final, plus the fact that Nadal was actually an underdog coming into the match, pushed me towards the Spanish side.
But Nadal, right now, is just the inferior tennis player. In his head, in his game. Djokovic simply toyed with him in the first set and some in the second. Drop shot after drop shot, break after break. He wasn’t just beating Nadal, it was actually hard to watch. I’ve never seen Rafa so helpless, so out of his league. All the hard work he puts out there, the running around and never giving up – It means nothing when Djokovic’s shot placement is inch perfect. The highlight reel was getting full, with Djokovic won points mostly.
Then came the third set, and something changed. Nadal, nearly heart-broken looking, found another gear. A sixth, a seventh, I don’t know. The power, the urgency in the shots. It seemed like his life, career, depended on each forehand, serve and return. Djokovic provided a fantastic partner for some amazing points. The crowd got into it, maybe too much. The noise seemed deafening. The serves couldn’t proceed uninterrupted. And Nadal got his confident walk back on again, that strut. He beat Djokovic in a tie break, and it looked like the momentum shifted.
Then came Djokovic’s back injury. I know he exaggerates with the severity of those every time, but his serve was showing he wasn’t 100%. Rafael Nadal seemed to lose focus, and forget his own physical limits. Two games into the third set, it was evident both were far from fighting fit. And without his ability to hound every ball, Nadal was lost. Djokovic made up for the loss of power with perfect shot making, Nadal? He was fighting a lost war. Quicksand with no help of rescue. An Anti-Climatical fourth set to a brilliant match.
I wasn’t sure if that was a tear rolling down Rafa’s cheek during the speeches and awards ceremony. At first it looked like it. Then I changed my mind. His voice was steady, which was disappointing. You win fans by showing emotion like that. Nadal won a lot of fans today, against somewhat of a crowd favorite in New York. With the crowd’s backing or not, Novak is simply the better player right now, the best in the world.
All that’s missing from this year to be mythical was the Roland Garros, which Federer denied him, and Nadal scooped up. But Nadal isn’t even safe there, in Paris, with his disadvantage, mentally, when facing Novak. A sixth straight final, and Nadal’s ego and confidence keep taking those poundings.
We got more tennis this year, but the US Open pretty much signals the end of anything meaningful in the tour. Davis cup matches are something different. I don’t know how much these guys have left in the tank after this year, after this match. I keep thinking about how different everything was a year ago. Nadal was winning his third slam of the year. Djokovic wasn’t able to handle Rafa’s serving, another ingredient added to the perfect player recipe. What a difference a year makes.