Friday, June 07, 2013

RG Day 13- Rafa & Novak, Together Again

So, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic met in a grand slam and produced yet another marathon-length epic that goes down as a true classic. Haven't we seen this act before?

Well, yes. Famously, for one, in the 2012 Australian Open final, a six-hour masterpiece into the dead of the Melbourne night that was finally won by the Serb. But since this semifinal took place at Roland Garros, where Nadal just losing a set to anyone has been headline-worthy for most of the past decade, there was an additional whiff of the familiar as the match played out over the afternoon in Paris, right down to the Spaniard celebrating a 6-4/3-6/6-1/6-7/9-7 victory in a four-and-a-half-hour-plus match which sends him to his eighth RG final, where he'll attempt to win a fourth straight men's title in Paris. For the SECOND time in his career.

For the record, Nadal would be the first player ever in the Open era to four-peat on two different occasions at the same grand slam.

After taking the 1st set, Nadal was looking to push Djokovic's back against the wall, as neither man in their now 35-match head-to-head history (this was their 10th meeting in a slam) has ever come back from two sets down to win against the other. But when the #1-seeded Serb won the final four games of the 2nd to level the contest it promised to be a long day on Chatrier. And it was, too.

In the 4th set, Nadal was twice up a break, and came within two points of victory at 6-5, going for a winner at 30/15 that would have given him double match point. But he missed, opening the door for Djokovic to hold serve and force a tie-break, which he won to take Rafa to a 5th set for just the second time in his RG career (def. John Isner in the 1st Rd. in '11), and to his first five-setter of any kind since losing to Lukas Rosol in the Wimbledon 2nd Round (a match which Tennis magazine just ranked as the biggest slam upset ever) last year.

In the deciding set, the Serb had that "marathon/warrior man" look in his eye, and when he went up a break in the first game against a distracted-by-his-lost-opportunity Nadal, there was every reason to believe that Djokovic might just grab hold of that lead like a pit bull and never give it up. But this was Nadal at Roland Garros, where he sported a 4-0 record against Djokovic -- there was just as much reason to believe it wasn't over yet. And it wasn't. At 4-3, on his third break point attempt, Rafa got things back on serve when Djokovic netted a forehand. As the holds continued, it was 5-5, then 6-6 and 7-7. Nadal was stretched as deep into the 5th as he ever has been, matching even the deciding set of "The Greatest Match Ever Player" against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final of 2008. It was a matter of which man was going to blink first.

It turned out to be Djokovic.

After arguing with the tournament referee on back-to-back changeovers about whether or not the terre battue should be watered down, Djokovic, for one game, turned into something of a version of another Serb that we know and love so well. Faced with a bit of "chaos" on the sideline, Djokovic, so focused on honoring his recently deceased mentor, Jelena Gencic, with a win in Paris to complete his Career Grand Slam, let the chaos slip into his game, briefly losing his concentration and focus. It was all the foothold it, and Nadal, needed to crush his dream.

Serving to stay in the match down 8-7, Djokovic donated four straight points to the Spaniard. A missed easy overhead was followed by him deciding to not cut off a Nadal passing attempt, only to see it land in the corner. A forehand error put Djokovic down love/40, triple match point. Completing the one-game collapse, Djokovic flew another shot long and Nadal won the 5th set by a 9-7 score, keeping Rafa's RG record against him (5-0) spotless and delaying for at least one more year the Serb's so-far-elusive pursuit of a title in Paris. It would seem a good bet that Djokovic will eventually get that title at Roland Garros. But as long as Nadal is around, who knows?

Of course, this WAS just the semifinal. Nadal still has to win another match to lift the Coupe des Mousquataires for a record eighth time. But, really, at this point, isn't that just a formality?

=DAY 13 NOTES= the other men's semifinal, otherwise known as the "2013 Roland Garros 2nd Place Match," David Ferrer took out Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to reach his first career slam final at age 31. All in all, it's great that Ferrer has finally managed to rise to this position in an era where so many other players have always been enough better than him that he's never even gotten a sniff at an actual slam final.

Of course, he'll also be playing Nadal. In Paris. Yep, there's THAT. Sure, Ferrer led Nadal 6-4/4-2 in the Madrid QF a few weeks ago, but he also lost eleven of the final thirteen games in that match in Spain.

And did I mention that it's Rafa in Paris? So far in his RG career, he's 58-1 there. So...

6...Bjorn Borg
5...Henri Cochet
5...Jaroslav Drobny
5...Roger Feder
5...Rene Lacoste
5...Ivan Lendl
5...Mats Wilander

24...Roger Federer, SUI (17-7)
17...RAFAEL NADAL, ESP (11-5)
10...Novak Djokovic, SRB (6-4)
6...Andy Murray, GBR (1-5)
4...Lleyton Hewitt, AUS (2-2)

**2013 ATP FINALS**
9...RAFAEL NADAL (6-2)
6...DAVID FERRER (2-3)
3...Novak Djokovic (3-0)
3...Andy Murray (2-1)
3...Stanislas Wawrinka (1-2)

All for now.

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