Australian Open (5)

Wow what an epic finish to the Aus Open 2012, one of the best matches to be played there and one of the best matches to be played for a long time. This is why I love tennis.

Novak started slowly in the first set but Rafa’s level dropped in the next two sets and he lost them convincingly. I was wondering whether Djokovic would show any signs of fatigue after the long semi-final with Murray but apparently not. He has matured so much from the weak-hearted player who retired due to “heat” in 2009.

Rafa did himself a lot of credit for hanging in there in the fourth set but it was just papering over the cracks — he simply has no game plan against Djokovic right now. Serving at 0-40, 4-3 down, he managed to reel off 5 points and then force a tie-break. In the tie-break, Djokovic was up 5-3 when he missed a simple forehand and hit another shot into the net to gift Nadal the set. The fifth set was a tense battle with Rafa getting the early break but Djokovic showed the physical and — more importantly — the mental strength to break back and ultimately seal the tournament.

Djokovic dictated play for most of the match, running Nadal from side to side. Rafa for his part defended gallantly. It might be enough against 99% of the players on tour but Novak is truly special. Running around defending, (i) waiting for your opponent to hit a mistake and (ii) hitting amazing running gets is simply not enough against the number one in the world.

I don’t see an easy way for Nadal to get out of his bind. One thing I will say is that he has to take more initiative and stand closer to the baseline. When faced with a barrage, his natural instinct is to back up and get hyper-defensive. It normally works a charm and it worked against Berdych in the quarter-finals. But it doesn’t work when the opponent is super hot — my immediate thought goes to that fateful quarter-final in the 2009 French Open when Robin Soderling pulled off the most shocking upset in modern tennis when he inflicted Rafa’s only loss there. Speaking of which — Djokovic vs Nadal at the French Open final? Now that would be something.

We’ve had Nadal-Roger (8-2 in Grand Slams to Nadal) and now Djokovic-Nadal (7-0 in finals since 2011 to Djokovic) – is this the beginning of another glorious (non-)rivalry?

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