So what have we learnt from the Rome finals? Novak Djokovic has stepped up his game. Not only is he hitting the ball exceedingly well, he is fitter, more confident, and much more aggressive.
And yes, he IS shaping up to the tennis’s world’s hope to beat Rafael Nadal on clay this year.
This might have been incredulous to imagine a couple of months ago—Nole with his injuries, controversies and retirements seemed a ghost of his former self and nothing like the prodigy who won his first grand slam in 2007.
But he in almost a phoenix like manner has emerged from the ashes of the player who was lost in excuses.
How much heart did he show in the finals today? Running down every single ball, matching Rafa toe to toe during those long rallies and most importantly believing in himself when no one else really did.
But sadly it was not meant to be. Not only did Rafa play sensational tennis, he won points which he had no right to win. With shots which were more penetrating, generating more than the usual spin and with a fortune which favoured him when he needed it most; he produced two spectacular sets of tennis. Business as usual.
And that is exactly how special Rafael Nadal is on clay. You can play the clay court match of your life and still have nothing to show for it. You can play stunning four or five games, but will you be able to match his brilliance for over two hours? I don’t think so.
And whats more if you cannot play at his level for two hours in a masters series, what hope do you have of competing with his at a grand slam for over five hours?
And yet Novak has provided us with the slightest glimmer of hope today. if anyone can threaten Rafa’s reign on clay its our Djoker.
So will Novak be encouraged after today’s encounter? There are two ways to look at it. He could easily think that he played two sensational finals against Rafa and merely managed a set in the process.
Or he could think that he actually has the capability to agitate Nadal, to make him think, to make him take chances and maybe, just maybe, steal the match from him in one of these finals.
As for today’s finals, I think he did enough. Sure he had some unforced errors but let’s face it, he either could take his chances or be bulldozed by Nadal. He chose well. He fought and he fought hard. He got through a tough draw. He was just beaten by the better man.
I think the tennis world collectively will be in a conundrum after this final. They would not know whether to be encouraged or discouraged with this match. On one hand we finally have somebody who is ACTUALLY troubling Nadal on clay. An incredible progress! But on the other hand, the progress is being stunted every single time.
An ominous possibility looms large—how is anyone ever going to beat Rafael Nadal on clay?