Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Best of 2010: Stormy Monday
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Best of 2010: Stormy Monday 12/20/2010 - 10:32 AM

Maybe you had to be there. When I talked to people later who had watched the U.S. Open men's final on TV, they sounded disappointed. “It was never in doubt”; “Djokovic never had a chance”; “The rain ruined it”: ‘I couldn’t find it on any channel.”

It didn’t feel any of those ways inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Novak Djokovic was indeed fighting an uphill battle all the way, but that only made him very loose, and made his opponent, Rafael Nadal, who was facing what would almost certainly be the best chance he would ever have to complete a career Grand Slam, very tight. Tennis players talk about being lonely in front of all those people, but it can’t get any lonelier than trying to finish a match you simply have to win in front of thousands of people who will be stunned if you don't. Nadal was on my side of the court when he got to 5-1. You could see change in him that game; he became visibly nervous, and stayed that way until it was over.

But what made this a memorable match for me—No. 4 for the year—was the shot-making exhibition these two put on. With the various rain delays, as well as the Monday start, the tension that usually accompanies a U.S. Open had dissipated by the third set. There was a sort of wild and stormy feel inside the stadium as these guys threw haymakers back and forth at each other.

Above are one person’s selection of the 12 best points—how closely do you have to watch a match to put something like that together? Seeing them again makes me think you didn’t really have to be there at all. They're just as good on TV.

***

The first point ends with a nice Djokovic drop shot. You know it’s especially nice, since even Nadal can’t get close to it. Djokovic has a very good backhand drop, but he uses it as a bail-out shot too often, from too far back in the court. Here he gets the shot selection right, hitting it from inside the baseline when he already has the advantage in the point.

***

I know these are highlights, but did Djokovic play better in this match than he did against Federer? You can see he’s tired, but that also frees him to go for shots he normally wouldn’t attempt. He makes a lot of them. Deep down, though, he doesn't believe it's going to work out in the end, and that's what dooms him.

In his matches with Nadal, Djokovic has the opposite problem that he does when he plays Federer. Where he has to fight off the early Federer attack, Djokovic typically starts strong against Nadal. He has a chance to control points and hit his shots, and his down the line backhand is a real weapon when Nadal’s crosscourt forehands land short. The catch: He has to keep hitting that down the line backhand, along with everything else, perfectly, game after game, set after set. On most occasions, he can’t.

***

Nadal is gaining on Bjorn Borg as the greatest clay-courter ever, but he may already be ahead of him in the passing shot department. What Nadal does like no one else is shorten his backswing so that he does little more than snap through the shot. He can still get pace doing this, but his specialities are accuracy and redirecting the ball with almost no preparation. He takes one Djokovic volley and snaps it down the line with a forehand; he takes another and blocks it crosscourt at a sharp angle with his backhand. No one can match him as a passing-shot improviser.

***

Does the Sky Sports play-by-play guy seriously mean to say that he thinks that two of these points are the best ever played? I mean, they’re good, but . . .

***

Two of these 12 best points came in the final game, when, like I said, Nadal was more visibly nervous than he had been all day. Nevertheless, he wins them. I’ve noted before that Federer is a master at showing nerves for a second and then playing through them. Nadal, who rarely blows a big match, does it too. Grace under pressure, the one true mark of a champion.

***

Djokovic is caught smiling after a few of these points, even when he’s lost them. On one other, he uses his racquet to clap for his opponent. The previous year, he had a similar attitude in his semifinal with Federer. This is obviously not ideal from a competitive standpoint—notice that he didn’t do any of that stuff in the Davis Cup final. But maybe Djokovic is just being realistic when he plays Nadal and Federer. Maybe we can forgive him for doing what we do when we watch them play, for being one more fan.


 
72
Comments
 

Posted by Master Ace 12/20/2010 at 11:17 AM

Nadal was on a mission to complete his career Slam. Nadal wanted to complete this match on Sunday especially word had it that the rain stopped after they called the match off(mainly due to CBS, I think). Djokovic was hoping that the off day would help him recover and to a point it did. But, Nadal was too strong for him and despite being below par in converting break points and was 0/3 in saving BP on his serve, he had too much determination in completing his career Slam.

Posted by Tuulia 12/20/2010 at 11:36 AM

That was a nice piece, thank you Steve. It was a great match indeed with plenty of fabulous shot making and tough rallies. And while it was indeed an uphill battle for Nole, he fought hard 'till the end and also played a lot of great tennis. And Master Ace, I agree with you, too.

Posted by Nick 12/20/2010 at 11:37 AM

Steve:

I think the first comment about "Best Point Ever" the announcer made was about the opening point of the match. Sounded like he meant that it was the best opening point ever. True or not, we do have to give it up to the fact that it really was a great opening rally for the rest of the match.

Posted by geellis 12/20/2010 at 11:41 AM

SECOND!!!

Posted by geellis 12/20/2010 at 11:41 AM

DARN, I GUESS NOT SECOND.

Posted by Kamilah 12/20/2010 at 11:50 AM

Steve, great piece but you must be talking to the wrong people because that match was just as exciting for those of us who had to follow it across 3 channels, two networks, 2 rain delays and a partridge in a pear tree:) Hats off to both guys for spectacular efforts and with them both being young, let's hope we get to see alot more of this level of play!

Posted by Tran 12/20/2010 at 12:03 PM

Are you kidding? Praises for such a match?

Posted by Syd 12/20/2010 at 12:23 PM

Hmm, compared to last year’s Delpo/Fed final the Nadal/Nole match turned out to be something of a flat tire; all the air having been leaked out of Nole in the semis and Nadal himself somehow failing to reach his normal level of spontaneous combustion.

Posted by Michele 12/20/2010 at 12:35 PM

"Deep down, though, he doesn't believe it's going to work out in the end, and that's what dooms him."

Nole put up a small fight but it was clear, at least to me, even watching in person that he would never win. And that sentence completely encapsulates why.

I would like to forgive him for being like us, a fan, but that's not what I want in a champion. I don't want them to be anything like us. And if he ever expects to win another slam, he better stop being a fan of Nadal or Federer and try being his own biggest fan.

Posted by wilson75 12/20/2010 at 01:14 PM

Compared to the Fed-Djoko SF, the final was a dud and the way CBS treated it showed that they only cared about was the much hyped "dream final" never-mind that Rafa was on the verge of making history. I was disappointed that Novak could put up a better fight to at least make the match interesting. As I said earlier, Novak as become the happy loser. The only reason this match can be considered as one of the best of 2010 is because of Rafa's achievements.

Posted by kongi 12/20/2010 at 01:16 PM

I remember thinking that match has some terrific shotmaking for sure. Nadal vs Djokovic are usually great match ups. I love to see more in finals.

Posted by Frances 12/20/2010 at 01:22 PM

one of the best matches of the year!!!

Posted by Andrew 12/20/2010 at 01:40 PM

My memory of this match is a bit cloudy: I had wisdom teeth surgery in the morning, and I watched the match on my sofa in a more-than-usually-drugged state.

I don't think the final was a dud: it reminded me of Federer-Roddick, USO F 2006. Not a classic, but a pretty good match. By 5-1 in the 4th set Djokovic was all but out of the match, but he was in it for a good 95% of the tussle.

Djokovic applauds opponents' good shots with his racquet in lots of matches. I picked up on this in Toronto in 2008, and asked him about it in the press conference after his defeat by Murray:

Q. I was struck that there was a very key point in the second set where you had made a winner after a huge point. You hit a serve and he hit a smashing return straight past you. You stopped and immediately applauded with your racquet. Appeared that it was really important to you that it was a sporting contest rather than just a battle. Can you comment on that?

NOVAK DJOKOVIC: We are rivals, you know. It's normal that on the court you have a lot of emotions and you want to win. That's absolutely normal and part of the sport.

You know, every person has a different behavior on the court. I admit when somebody makes a great shot. Why not? I congratulate them.


Steve could have written the "Deep down, though, he doesn't believe it's going to work out in the end, and that's what dooms him" line about Djokovic had he missed that 30-40 FH against Federer. I think many of us have a tendency to project feelings of hopelessness onto players who have taken on Nadal or Federer and been defeated. That's part of the whole "aura" concept.

Nadal fully deserved his win in this match - he rode out the potential momentum shift of the loss of the second set, just as he rode out Federer's comeback in RG F 2007. Djokovic himself had responded brilliantly to Federer's leads in their SF, and my sense in this match was that the mental effort involved in crossing the finish line against his nemesis in the past three years ultimately did for him.

Nadal was a bit fortunate in taking on four opponents out of five from R32 onwards (Simon, Verdasco, Youzhny and Djokovic) who'd come through five set scraps in the round before. To my eyes, Nadal wasn't playing quite at the same level he'd managed from mid 2008 through 2009. But you can also argue that the postponement of the Sunday final to Monday was a stroke of luck for Djokovic, albeit not one that led to the big payoff (unless he'd kept Nadal's check after the trophy ceremony.)

Posted by jackson 12/20/2010 at 01:42 PM

I think the guy who put that video together is a Djokovic fan. Funny how most of the points he thought were the greatest were ones that that Novak won. ;)

I'm not quibbling about the greatness of them, because they were definitely fabulous, but I'm sure if I went searching youtube I could find some videos of highlights from both players. Rafa played so well. He had to to beat Novak that day, and it was a great match. These two guys bring out the best in each other and it was a terrific final, full of drama and excitement and wonderful tennis.

Posted by wilson75 12/20/2010 at 01:49 PM

I said compared to the SF it was a dud, I wasn't comparing it to other USO finals which in the grand scheme of things have not been great over the years because one of both of the players are tired due to the back to back SF and F. This is just my opinion.

Posted by Robert D. 12/20/2010 at 01:51 PM

This match was honestly really disappointing for me. There were so many errors and mishits, it's hard to call it the 4th best match of the year. The points are pathetic too, because Djokovic has chances to end them, but just has a weak reply. The level of play had dropped considerably from last year's final. The crowd didn't really get involved until the last set(where it was still quiet compared to last year), which made the match even more dull. I guess, as a Nadal fan, I'm happy he won, but the atmosphere when he won was pretty nonchalant. I don't think Nadal deserved to cry, because his opponent was a tired opponent with no confidence. If his opponent was Federer, he would have deserved to cry if he won.

Posted by Robert D. 12/20/2010 at 01:55 PM

Not to mention, Nadal's road to the final was pretty weak. He had a clay courter(Verdasco), Lopez(Sure he had a lot of wins, but most of them were against low ranked opponents), and Youzhny(who isn't really even that good). Meanwhile, Federer had a much harder time through the draw. He had Melzer, Soderling, and Djokovic.

Posted by ILR 12/20/2010 at 02:06 PM

I'm really, really glad to see this match listed here. Djokovic's uphill struggle against fatigue and an all-time great opponent chasing his place in the history books had a tragic quality in it that made quite an impression on me.

It was almost like Djokovic was fighting against fate itself. This was a match straight out of Sophocles' pen.

Posted by jackson 12/20/2010 at 02:12 PM

wilson75 at 01:49 PM "I said compared to the SF it was a dud,"

That's a pretty subjective opinion wilson. Others, such as me, will say that they thought the SF wasn't all that great except for a few points right at the end. IMO, the final was far more exciting and the level of tennis was higher.

Posted by Amit 12/20/2010 at 02:18 PM

It is difficult to make a comment on this match without the "Federer fan" taint bleeding in, but I have not thought that highly of Nadal's hardcourt play during Toronto/Cinci/USOpen this year. The AO QF and YEC against Murray were very high quality affairs; I didn't see a comparable stretch of play from him at the USOpen series against a opponent of that caliber.

Andrew - the 2006 Federer-Roddick final is a good comparison; similar scoreline in the last set as well. I disagree that Djokovic was competitive for 95% of this match, though. I felt from the beginning that Nadal would win this unless he implodes, and typically that's not how Nadal-Djokovic hardcourt matches feel. There's no obvious matchup disparity here.

Posted by wilson75 12/20/2010 at 02:24 PM

jackson: I did say it was my opinion.

Posted by Aube,at this point all I pray for is a 40 degrees day!!! 12/20/2010 at 02:31 PM

It's unbelievable how I feel this is my first time around watching this,indeed incredible,marvellous shot makings,beautiful tennis from both players!!!

Posted by Tuulia 12/20/2010 at 03:02 PM

ILR - that was nicely put :)

Posted by Northernboy 12/20/2010 at 03:21 PM

The thing about this match is that Djokovic could have won it. The one thing he doesn't do which Nadal and Federer do is defend his serve well. He's a great serve returner, up there with Murray, so he can break often, but Novak just doesn't play intelligent or high enough percentage tennis when on serve. You saw when he got broken twice in the opening set despite outplaying Nadal overall in the rallies.

I mean, the guy gave Nadal something like 27 break point chances, but saved 90% of those. Didn't that strike anyone else as bizarre? It's like he played carelessly or without focus through many of his service games, but snapped back into it when he had to defend break points. To me that was the real story of this match. And of course Djokovic went 100%, or 3/3 for break points. I can't believe he only got a look at 3 break points, that seems absurdly low. But Nadal was serving better than ever (though post-USO his serve was nowhere near as good).

So the remaining top 3 will be Isner v. Mahut, Nadal v. Murray YECs, and hopefully one of the women's French Open matches. I suspect Stosur v. Serena. Other candidates would be Sharapova v. Henin and Dementieva v. Stosur from the USO.

Posted by MikeDC 12/20/2010 at 03:25 PM

Glad to see this one on the list, surprised it made it honestly. I'm a Fed fan, but I remember being remarkably impressed by this match. I guess I'm in the minority, but I agree it belongs up here.

So guesses on last three? Obviously Mahut/Isner will be on the list, along with Murray/Nadal YEC... so one more... I can't think of any except for some Stosur matches at both the FO and USO... but I can't see one of those making top 3. Davis Cup final doubles match? Schivone's win just for the feel good? Ryan Harrison since it was discussed at length in the podcast...

Posted by ActionFlunky 12/20/2010 at 03:38 PM

Huh? Rafa/Nole USO? It was a four-set match with a blowout final set. C'mon, Tignor; you're better than this. And sorry, by the middle of the third set the writing was on the wall. In italicized, boldfaced 24-point Mallorcan font. Nole may have fought gamely till the beginning of set four, but midway thru the third he was dead man walking. (Oh, and the first set wasn't competitive either.)

Anyway, odd choice. Shouldn't even warrant a top twenty selection.

P.S. Stosur/Serena FO gets my vote as numero uno. Those final two sets were world-class nailbiters.

Posted by Gattaca66 12/20/2010 at 03:41 PM

Yay Steve! This match was definitely on my list for the year but no one else's so far, I knew you could be trusted.

Posted by Mr T 12/20/2010 at 04:04 PM

Steve - A great match and presented in that manner, the physicality of the match was made even better. Some fans were probably disappointed that it was not Federer vs. Nadal but the quality of this match made up for that. Nice job.

Posted by The Fan Child 12/20/2010 at 04:06 PM

Just finding this vid is quite an achievement. It's so intense with the crowd really tuning in and getting the miraculous nature of the points.

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/20/2010 at 04:41 PM

I only really saw the first set live. Shocking behaviour for a so-called Rafa fan. :) Nice to catch some highlights at the end of the year too.

I remember some people saying at the time that they'd felt it was one of the best matches of the year, despite only being four sets - Pete, I think, and maybe Ruth? - among others.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/20/2010 at 04:55 PM

I watched this match until the first rain break and hated it.
The physicality and brutality of tennis didn't do anything for me. I don't enjoy that kind of shot making, maybe on clay but definitely not on hard courts.

Nadal is killing the sport and I'm glad Federer thrashed him in London with some sublime effortless skill and tennis.
I have a question for everyone here: what happened to Nadal's formidable serve (it was evidently a weapon there) from USO during London TMC?

Posted by Nam1 12/20/2010 at 05:23 PM

physiality, brutality, Nadal is killing the game yada, yada, yada...... I just don't understand what the people who say these things are watching?

Sour Grapes, IMO.

Posted by Fedfan 12/20/2010 at 05:29 PM

My guess is Rafa's serve was hampered by his shoulder injury. He was still serving quite well on the Asian leg, but defaulted to his spin serve in London.

Posted by ya-ya 12/20/2010 at 05:38 PM

this match and the mahut-isner match are making the top lists of many people due to their historic nature. Based on actual quality neither would make it.

IMO, a basic criterion must be met before any match is called a top 10 match. Both players have to play well in all the sets. So for me this match and Fed/Djoko sf do not belong here.

And I agree. I don't know why the scheduling is so messed up. If you want a back-to-back sf-final, then make the final in the evening so both players would have sufficient rest.

This would have been a far better match if djoko was more rested.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/20/2010 at 05:39 PM

"physiality, brutality, Nadal is killing the game yada, yada, yada...... I just don't understand what the people who say these things are watching?

Sour Grapes, IMO. "

Genuinely and absolutely not. I never liked Nadal's tennis much but it stuck out like a sore thumb in this particular match for some reason. Nothing beautiful and attractive for me there, just forceful very, very skillful bashing at the end of the day.

Posted by kurt lang 12/20/2010 at 05:53 PM

i don't mind the "bashing". it's riveting at times.

but i do prefer federeresque or gasquetesque style of play. more variety.

Posted by x-fan 12/20/2010 at 06:04 PM

I'm a Fed fan and as such I prefer his style of play but I honestly can't understand why some people can't see other aspects of Nadal's game.
I enjoyed this match (minus the rain and poor coverage) and in a year with limited choices I definitely think it's worth a special mention.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/20/2010 at 06:10 PM

"but I honestly can't understand why some people can't see other aspects of Nadal's game. "
They are so scarce they almost look like an unnecessary evil. Beauty in Nadal's game is as abundant as agression in Murray's.

Posted by Sherlock 12/20/2010 at 06:14 PM

"Beauty in Nadal's game is as abundant as agression in Murray's."

Thanks for the objective opinion. :)

Beauty, beholder, and all that. I think there are a few people around the world who find Mr. Nadal's game quite awesome to watch.

Posted by x-fan 12/20/2010 at 06:16 PM

Noleisbest,
You do sound bitter :)
Anyway, suit yourself, you obviously have great dislike for Nadal.
I still think real tennis fans can appreciate different styles and players and not just our own favorites.

Posted by Dan 12/20/2010 at 06:17 PM

Undoubtedly one of the best matches of the year, in spite of Nadal haters who are already around here talking that crap(for a tennis connoiseur) of "brutality, killing the sport..." (I mean, are you so blind that you can´t have the minimum of objectivity?).

Incredible shot making from both men.

Posted by ebh 12/20/2010 at 06:31 PM

@Syd & Robert D.

Give me a break! Open your eyes and learn to appreciate tennis. Jeez!

Posted by annie 12/20/2010 at 06:37 PM

noleisthebest - - most of the time you post positive comments, and your fandom of Novak is appreciated. Didn't realize you had such hate for Rafa. If you are critical of the shot making of the USO final, it would have to be against BOTH players, as they were both really "bashing" the ball, and their play was quite similar. The beauty of the match was in the placement of those hard-hit shots.
Thought it was well worthy of a top-5 match of the year!!

Posted by Julian 12/20/2010 at 06:56 PM

It was a great match indeed, not a classic but the audacity of the shotmaking, court coverage and some unbelievable passing shots particularly from Rafa's BH (arguably the best pass in tennis) were sublime to watch.

I'm a Rafa fan but it would be great for Djokovic to get his second major sometime soon.

Posted by Bolofan 12/20/2010 at 07:51 PM

How disrespectful of you Steve. Yes, Nadal is No. 1, but Nole is No. 3.
It is very rare and even more welcome to watch that level of competition. incredible performance of both. Time will tell Steve, time will tell. Did you know Nole did beat RF in the semis? Please let us know how many of the total loses of RF and RN come from Nole.

Posted by skip1515 12/20/2010 at 09:25 PM

Like most matches, I can understand how this one was more electric if you were there. I was not at Ashe, however, and my impression of it from my couch was that it never attained "who'll win?" status.

Yes, there were fabulous points and, Yes, Djokovic did take the 2nd set, but inasmuch as his strategy seemed to be take-each-ball-and-open-up-the-point I never thought the Serb to be bound for glory. Sure, if you can pull off that battle plan – from the baseline no less – then you can beat Super Spaniard. I've yet to see anyone capable of that level of play over 5 sets, however, and nothing in this match made me think otherwise.

Look, to each his own/live and let live; Steve, this makes your top 10 list and I'm always interested to hear your thoughts. But, for me, this one never pushed me forwards to the edge of my seat.

Posted by skip1515 12/20/2010 at 09:30 PM

I should have mentioned that if you can beat Nadal with first strike tennis – again, from the baseline – without *truly* superior serving , then your name is Zeus. Or similar.

Posted by Ivo 12/20/2010 at 10:18 PM

Skip1515,
thee was one moment, in which, for a brief brief time it looked Djokovic could be trouble - that was after he took the set and seemed to be hitting his spots at the beginnig of the 3rd. But he deflated way too quickly. In my mind, as in the mind of many, the outcome looked pretty much done from set 1. That said, it was definitely more entertaining that Nadal vs. Berdych - that was to me a disappointing final. There I had no doubts that Nadal would win from game 1. And that is, I didn't think it would be that simple for Nadal the way it turned out to be.
Also, I am curious as to why people didn't comment more on Steve's last point. I too, don't find Nole's way of appreciating the shots made by Nadal or Federer useful for his own mental game. Nole is able to produce some stunning winners as well, and Federer and Nadal would never start clapping at those...not because they don't have respect, but because they're just too focused, too competitive in those moments. Nole, seems to me, looses a bit his edge when he does that. And I don't like him do that. Agree with Steve, in DC, there was none of that.

to Noleisthebest:
I do share you pain...you've been criticized here for what you said and I think that there's a great denial on the part of those who are trying to say that Rafa's game is so much more subtle than what it appears to be, or that there are more elements to it than we can see. Well, if Rafa was not so successful, I don't think that people would be able to see all those elements..i.e. they would probably agree that his game is overall rather one-dimensional and that it has not totally changed over the years (has only gotten better). It's no fun for me to watch Rafa trash a guy cause it's really boring in terms of shot-making..not because I wouldn't like to see Rafa win, simply because it's not a spectacular likeable tennis (that is not true when I watch Federer..he manages a shot here and there, even against lower-ranked players where I feel it was worth watching). That said, I love seeing Rafa play flashy players, shot makers.... He's the most ideal counterpart for such face-offs...not only because he wins most of the time, but because he provides the best contrast of tennis styles and it's just pure joy to watch such tennis - Rafa, first allowing his shot-making opponent to go for such shots, and then basically neutralizing any shot-making tennis and producing some of his own. I like when he's up against big hitter, flashy players. On the other hand, and I am afraid that this will be no. 2 this year after the Mahut-Isner match, I am bored watching Murray and Rafa play - the high-mooning balls (of Murray's forehand and Rafa's backhand, and sometimes forehand) are to me not that exciting.
That said, aesthetics is always subjective, in anything. If others see in these matches something I don't, I don't think they are wrong. For my part I'd say that many fans tend to conflate success with beautiful style (as if the two went together and there was no question about it...i.e. as if winning had an aesthetic quality in itself.....well for me I cannot think of tennis this way. I have always prefered to see players such as Credric Piolene than Matts Wilander (and there's no question was was more successful). I enjoyed Henry Leconte as compared to Thomas Muster (and there is no question of who was more successful here either). btw. I am not French, these are just the examples that came to my mind. Likewise I enjoyed the tennis of Henin say to that of her predecessors Seles, or Schanzes-Vicario etc. It's hard for me to see how it'd be otherwise.
But it's not hard for me to see how I would love Monica Seles's tennis if I was her fan - that would change the whole thing.

Posted by Ivo 12/20/2010 at 10:25 PM

just to add: for those who will jump on me: when I said I like match-ups in which a flashy player plays against Nadal, I would immediately think of AO semifinal with Verdasco - Verdasco is to me a good shot-maker (particularly on the forehand wing..crazy how fast that shot is...deceptively fast) who goes for crazy shots. That AO semi was one of the best matches I've seen in recent years......I'd say it was even better than the final between Federer.

Posted by Yolita 12/20/2010 at 10:31 PM

jackson at 1.42 pm: "I think the guy who put that video together is a Djokovic fan. Funny how most of the points he thought were the greatest were ones that that Novak won. ;)"

Watch the video again, jackson. 6 points were won by Djokovic and 6 points were won by Nadal. :))

Posted by jewell - Make tea, not war. 12/21/2010 at 01:59 AM

People have got to be allowed their personal preferences as to liking a player's game or not. :) (and yes, I need to remind myself of that fairly frequently. LOL.) However, when those turn into blanket statements like "Rafa is killing tennis/he is the end of beauty/the end of everything..." etc I do tend to raise a sceptical eyebrow.

Hard to see a three-set final as a thrashing, although I did feel the second set was more about Roger dropping a level than Rafa raising his.

Posted by geellis 12/21/2010 at 02:07 AM

@ noleisthebest
Partisans like you drive me absolutely batty. I just don't understand your perspective. Nadal, just a very good basher? Do you even watch his matches. No one has every managed the court real estate as well as this kid. No one has ever hit with such controlled agression. He brings a level of athleticism that is world class. Approach his BH side at your own peril. Watch him control rallies with his FH like a conductor for the London Philharmonic. If his game were half as much about bashing as you think, he'd have half as much trouble with the big, flat ball strikers. In fact his game is not about bashing. It's about controlling the battle field, the real estate that is the tennis court. And that's what so few of his detractors seem to get. And I count you among that number. Too bad, for he really is a special, special player to watch.

Posted by melanie 12/21/2010 at 02:22 AM

Hi Steve

Thanks for the great post, watching the video brings back all the tension that went with this match. The way that Novak was hitting the ball in the semi, and considering what he has done to Rafa in the past on a hard court he could have won this, and the rallies are impressive. Whilst not a classic match, it was the only Grand Slam final that went to 4 sets this year, unlike in 2009 when 3 of them went to 5 sets! 2010 was a bit short of drama but this one had the tension and as a big Rafa fan it was nerve racking to see if he could do it, and he did!

Vamos, and looking forward to 2011.

Posted by raindelaysplay 12/21/2010 at 03:59 AM

Forgive him?! I love Djokovic for showing appreciation of his opponents. I think it takes a lot of confidence to acknowledge when great tennis even when it's your opponent playing it and it risks conceding some kind of mental advantage to them. I think the fact that Djokovic can smile about it and then move on is to his credit as a player and a person, and to be honest, I don't think Rafa or Roger are suddenly going to play even better simply because Novak applauded a great shot!

Posted by jabeau 12/21/2010 at 04:09 AM

I fail to see how Rafael Nadal singlehandedly kills tennis as a game... Have others changed their style to be like him? Fed? Gasquet? Flashy players? Even if they tried they couldn't as Rafael is a unique player.

Some of you keep bringing up Nole's battle with Fed and his tiredness. First of all he had an extra day's rest due to rain, secondly why didn't he beat Fed in 3 sets.

gaellis - I agree with you. There are many who are taller, more muscular and hit the ball with more force. Why is he always labelled a basher is beyond me.

Posted by noleisthebest 12/21/2010 at 04:10 AM

Ivo, I agree with everything you said, inc. Nadal's game being good against players with more flair.
As for the others who disagree with me, I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree on Nadal.
I know this much: when you are a fan of a tennis player you are able to see so much more in a player's game and you do get blinkered a bit, but even with the blinkers I can never say that Federer's game is not beautiful and awesome....
Nadal's qualities are all in his head, he is a match winner but that's not why I'd get out of bed at 3AM for if you get my drift...
One more thing: I don't know about you, but I certainly do not hate anybody, let alone a superb athlete whose drive I dedication I can only admire.
Merry Christmas to all and a happy, injury-free, flair-full tennis 2011 to all :) !

Posted by jabeau 12/21/2010 at 04:30 AM

noleisthebest - now you're saying that Nadal's qualities are all in his head. I think you need a bit more than that, wanting to win is not enough. Similarly a beautful playing style doesn't make you a champion.

Of course you become a fan of a player because you like his/her style and you can admire and respect another player for his/her results. If you don't like Rafael Nadal, don't watch him. Simple.

Posted by Ivo 12/21/2010 at 06:24 AM

To noleisthebest and others:

talking about waking up to see a match: gosh i'd love to wake up and see the match between Nadal and Federer..I am in such a rough time zone now that when it's 20.30pm in Zurich, it's 4am for me here. I think I am not going to wake up to see the exo, but I'll regret not seeing these two square off.
I am surprised, with so many knowledgable people on this board, that no one has yet mentioned the upcoming exhibitions.
I am not sure what they mean ..probably not much. But then again, having seen how Agassi went after Sampras (or Sampras after Agassi?) during their last exhibition..my sense is that to Federer and Nadal, even the exhibition means something.
After all, they are both pretty much aware that what's going on between the two, that's already a great piece of history in action. I think that every match that they play sort of matters....the same way it was with Navratilova and Evert..or the big rivalries of the past - Borg and McEnroe etc.
Any predictions on this?
Of course, Marry Christmas (unfortunately it's not being celebrated where I am now either:(

Posted by petewho 12/21/2010 at 06:29 AM

merry xmas steve

I think this match needed Jimmy Arias not Mark Petchey or Flemming.

Djokers shots sit up nicely with that western grip , Id really like to see a top tier guy with semi western grip that can knock of those balls like an Agassi or Courier .

It makes me wonder how a young Agassi today would of fared with the same dedication he had to fitness, remember what he used to do to Brugeras high balls on hard court ?

cheers

pw

Posted by jita65 12/21/2010 at 08:02 AM

I couldn't watch this match as I was travelling but I really wanted Novak to win this and was so disappointed with his loss that I didn't even want to watch the highlights later. I agree with Northernboy that Novak must get better at defending his own serve, he just makes it harder for himself sometimes by being careless during his own serve in key games.

Nadal was very fortunate this USO, not having to play any top hard court players and arriving fresh to the final. Quite the opposite for Novak, but this is how it is in tennis. As a top player, one still has to believe deep down, even in these circumstances. And this was a winnable match for him, more than the match with Roger :(

On the other subject, I can never figure out why I am instantly a fan of one tennis player and not of another. I can see no logic when I look at all my favourites over the decades. All top players can hit some fantastic shots and while you can appreciate it, it's not enough to make you a fan. For some reason, I was Novak's fan the instant I saw him play for the first time in 2007 in Montreal final & USO final. On the other hand, I have watched Nadal play and win for years now but still unable to take to his style. Anyway, he has great results, tons of fans who really appreciate his game, so he must be doing something right :))

On the subject of stopping to appreciate opponent's shots, mixed feelings, it's nice and all, but why bother. Plenty of fans in audience to do that.

Posted by jodiecate 12/21/2010 at 09:24 AM

ALRIGHT count me with geelis (12/21 02.07am) in appreciating the beauty of Rafa's tennis. Count me with raindelaysplay (12/21 03.59am) re thumbs up for players visibly appreciating their opponents play!!

Thanks Steve for this inclusion - it's been really fun to watch these "12 Best" and see what fantastic shots they are both making. It's easy to look at the score and think "oh, this was a walkover", but this reminds us that it was close at times and COULD easily have gone either way. We all know how quickly tables can be turned in tennis.

Someone above has mentioned that the "12 Best" compiler must have been a Nole fan as there are more points that Novak wins - actually not the case. They've won 6 each, N wins 12,11,10,9,5 & 2 while R wins 8,7,6,4,3 & 1.

Posted by jodiecate 12/21/2010 at 09:58 AM

And just to expand... I agree with geelis that Rafa plays beautiful tennis and it's not so much about the power & "bashing" as about control and placement. To hit the ball with such velocity and still have it kissing the corners is amazing! I remember before i became a fan watching Rafa play and i kept thinking... "Good shot, but that was a fluke!!" "That was SOOO nearly not in" "That was pure luck!!" but he'd have such "flukes" five points in a row... a couple of times a set - and i had to think - perhaps this kid knows what he's doing.

Rafa plays the most remarkable acute-angled-change-of-direction shots at times that are simply thrilling! He has superb court coverage and sublime passing ability.

It's true that he does NOT play "graceful" tennis like Roger does. If "graceful" is your definition of great tennis i can see how watching Rafa may seem distasteful. I'm a big fan of precision, grace and flow, and that's why i love watching Roger play tennis. Rafa has taught me some other equally vital components of beauty: passion, intention, focus, relentless self belief, quirkiness, colourfulness, & groundedness to name a few.

Posted by denise 12/21/2010 at 10:07 AM

"shot-making exhibition"?!?!?

you actually need Roger for that stuff. such a safe, passive, ball high above the net Final, I'd rather watch Clijsters.

Posted by denise 12/21/2010 at 10:07 AM

and I'm a Henin fan!!!

Posted by ulrich 12/21/2010 at 10:13 AM

am i the only one who can't stand rafa's way of fist-pumping?

some see it as "passion". i see it as too much and rather annoying. a simple basic fist pump or "vamos" would suffice.

Posted by jodiecate 12/21/2010 at 10:16 AM

Um... I have seen both Roger and Rafa applaud opponents who make exceptionally good shots. I don't think it gives anything away to your opponent to acknowledge to them that "hey, i thought that was brilliant!!"

I actually think it's been a GREAT change instigated by these younger players to not have to be agressively aloof with each other or carry the "rivalry" into other areas of life. It's fantastic that off the court they can hang out, have meals together, stage playstation battles and all. It keeps the emotional charge out of the on-court encounters and it keeps the results in perspective. I really like it the way Rafa says about him and Roger "i don't see us as 'rivals', it's more like we're colleagues because we are friends". Nole's wise to hook up with the trailer that's right out front, don't think it'll harm him at all!!

Posted by @work 12/21/2010 at 10:20 AM

I really enjoyed this match. I'm a fan of both of these players even if Rafa is my top favorite.
I can certainly understand people having different preferences in playing style. While I truly respect and appreciate Roger's achievements, I don't go out of my way to watch him play (unless he's playing Rafa) because I don't find him that exciting to watch.
My wish for 2011 is to see Rafa and Nole play more often :)

Posted by dan 12/21/2010 at 10:35 AM

I'll take any 12 points from 08' Federer-Murray, or 09' Federer-Delpo.

Posted by Diwakar 12/21/2010 at 11:11 AM

Sorry to make it an Rafa-Roger talk over Rafa-Nole talk....but couldn't resist how Tennis champs of this generation keep their rivalry purely on court...

http://tinyurl.com/24jke75

We fans should learn from them :)

Posted by federer_legend 12/21/2010 at 02:56 PM

well done, steve
with that rate , nadal vs berdych at wimbledon will be surely the best match of the year for you .
with all respect for this match and for rafa's achievement , i don't understand how this match comes ahead of the us open semifinal or the final of brisbane between clijsters and henin

Posted by noleisthebest 12/21/2010 at 04:16 PM

No I bet it will be one of Novak's Davis cup matches ;)

Posted by neilintoronto 12/30/2010 at 07:15 PM

Well i for one thoroughly enjoyed this match. Both players were hitting the stink off the ball on some points, and showed some deft touch on others ( certainly the flick lob that Nole hit and Rafa left being one of many). Just listening to the deafening roar of the crowd for BOTH guys in this highlight package is just astounding. For a four setter, it also had its fair share of drama, Novak racing out to a 4 love lead in the second, only to have Rafa claw his way back to 4 all before the rain came. Too bad the weather became the third player on the court that day, but all in all was the most exciting slam final of the year.

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