In a repeat of this years US Open final, fans cheered wildly hoping that the 23rd meeting between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic would be as closely contested as some of their meetings in the last two years. In the end Nadal won the encounter in straight sets 7-5, 6-2
The entire Nadal family were in Rafa’s box, his parents separated in the seating as has been the case since their separation was announced last year. Nadal, in his school boy grey shorts, defended Novak’s early attempts to force him back well behind the baseline. As Novak pushed to deuce someone in the crowd yelled out “Genius Novak! Genius!”, the Serb then receiving a break point with a look at a second serve. An intelligent swinging body serve from the world number one saw the ball shanked and the game saved.
Novak showed he can step up and be an all court player, wrong footing Nadal with some smart play at the net. At one point Novak almost did the splits to pick up a volley from Nadal, somehow turning around and almost managing to race back to the other side of the court in time to reach the Spaniards reply.
When a heavy forehand from Nadal proved too difficult to control he had his first chance to break in the fifth game. A few shanked balls later Rafa came out ahead of some brilliant net play, calling for the trainer to remove some ankle taping. Novak responded immediately getting things back on level terms as he started executing his game plan more effectively.
Nadal’s passing shots were so accurate that they consistently were out of reach of Novak who was anticipating Nadal’s moves well, but simply wans’t quick enough. He responded by trying to shorten the points, throwing down a few big serves. When the rallies happen Djokovic tracked everything down but ultimately found Nadal’s forehand too difficult to control when he was on the run. Eventually after nearly 8 minutes the Serb held for a 4-3 lead.
That was where things started to unravel for Novak. He started having trouble with his contact lens which was deemed an equipment problem when Rafa started serving. Someone yelled out “You should’ve gone to Spec Savers!” to which Novak responded with a thumbs up.
After Nadal held, Djokovic tried a lens change after explaining that he was unable to see. As everyone waited for play to resume the crowd and Nadal were amused by a sign that said “Marry me Rafa!” and when flipped said “Or maybe just 1 kiss?” After both players held serve in what became a more subdued match and it became clear that Novak was still struggling to see and Nadal took the set 7-5 despite a series of unforced errors that gave Djokovic break points and something to smile about briefly before Rafa held.
Nadal’s rhythm may have been disturbed but Djokovic was clearly having sight and therefore timing issues, seeming awkward when he took a swing. The doctor came out and attended to Djokovic as the umpire explained to Nadal it was an equipment issue as he was forced to wait again. Nadal complained that the bathroom break Djokovic had taken was 6 minutes and that he was sometimes in trouble for taking an extra few seconds between points. Nadal paced the back of the court waiting for Djokovic, irritated that his level of play dropped with the delays.
Djokovic was broken to love in the opening game of the first set as the mood in the stadium dropped further. Novak played but the nature of the battle had changed and the match was all but over, Nadal walking away undefeated in the tournament as Djokovic continued to rub his eyes.
“For me was a very important victory because my level was high another time; playing very well in the first set especially. For sure is a very important victory for the group because I am in a good position.” – Rafael Nadal
“The year was fantastic for me and to finish the season playing well here, like today, is very positive news for me. The image of last year was not one of my best. And for sure I really wanted to change that.
I am happy because if I do not qualify for the semi-finals, the image is completely different this year than last year. For sure the season was the best season of my career. I win the last three Grand Slams, I win in Monte-Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo. Was something impossible to imagine for me last year when I was playing here.” – Rafael Nadal
“I really feel sick talking about it, to be honest. It has never happened to me before. From the five-all I could not play. I could not see a ball, especially the return. It was just terrible.” – Novak Djokovic