Novak Djokovic was at the peak of his powers in Sunday's 2014 Sony Open final, where he cruised to a 6-3, 6-3 victory over top seed Rafael Nadal at Crandon Park in Miami, Fla.
This marks Djokovic's second consecutive title after winning at Indian Wells, and he blew his fellow superstar opponent away with a superior serve and booming groundstrokes that left Nadal scrambling throughout.
Nadal was just a little off on both his forehand and backhand, often being pressed into hitting it long due to the depth Djokovic was getting during quick but aggressive hard-hitting rallies. It is the fourth title for Djokovic at Miami, while Nadal remains winless in four finals at this event.
The Daily Mail's Stuart Fraser pointed out how Djokovic wasn't feeling all that great about his game entering the month, but back-to-back titles have to change that mindset:
For someone who admitted he was lacking confidence going into March, it's been one heck of a month for Djokovic.— Stuart Fraser (@stu_fraser) March 30, 2014
After the two players held serve well early on in the first set, Djokovic got a big break and held for a commanding 5-2 lead. The only break point Nadal had was in the opening game, but he couldn't take advantage of it.
Djokovic then broke in the first game of the second set to put Nadal in a difficult position, where every change in his tactical approach thereafter gave him little traction.
Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated highlighted how deep Djokovic was returning the ball:
Novak Djokovic leads 5-2 and he's hitting deep and heavy early. How deep? This deep: pic.twitter.com/el44i7j7J2— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 30, 2014
Before the final, Nadal knew it was going to take his best tennis and a slightly off match by Djokovic to claim victory.
"Only chance to win against Novak is play to the limit, play my best, and wait that he not going to have his best day," said Nadal, per ESPN.co.uk.
It wasn't quite in the cards, as the apparent hex on Nadal in South Beach continues.
What gave Nadal the biggest problem was his lack of success on the second serve. He is already not a heavy hitter in the service game, preferring to wear out his foes with unexpected winners and remarkable topspin. Part of what gives Djokovic an edge is his height, but it requires him to be at his best to knock off Nadal in the dominant fashion he flashed in this final.
Nothing was really amiss for Djokovic, as he devastated Nadal in winning 83 percent of points in which he hit his first serves in play and 62 percent on his second serve, compared to just 64 and 47 percent in the same categories for Nadal.
Tennis TV had the final statistics, which shows that Djokovic was able to control the match from behind the baseline and rarely could Nadal adjust in trying to volley at the net:
It took great effort for Nadal just to stay competitive on his serve, and he was no match on the returning end of Djokovic's service games. Christopher Clarey of The New York Times hinted at that in his analysis:
Rarely seen a match where Nadal looks this late to the ball this often— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) March 30, 2014
The hard court is ideal for Djokovic's combination of fitness, returning ability and power, while Nadal is known as the "King of Clay." That contrast was on display on Sunday, as Djokovic asserted his will, and even when Nadal threw in counter-punches, the "Serbinator" exterminated much of the Spaniard's trademark resolve with an outstanding blend of strength and finesse.
Retired British tennis player and sportscaster Andrew Castle had high praise for Djokovic afterward:
Although Nadal leads the overall head-to-head matchup with Djokovic 22-18, he has lost 14 of 21 hard-court matches. The New York Times' Ben Rothenberg noted how Djokovic is within striking distance of Nadal's No. 1 ranking:
Djokovic narrowing gap in rankings between himself and Nadal. If he replicates his 2011 clay season, Novak could be No1 before French Open.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 30, 2014
Now the ATP season turns toward the clay season in the lead-up to the French Open, which has to have Nadal excited. He can slide on that surface and capitalize better on his skill set, but Djokovic has to be oozing with confidence and can use this triumph to give him some momentum moving forward.
Age may be catching up to Roger Federer, and Andy Murray is still trying to work his way back into competitive shape both physically and mentally. That should allow Nadal and Djokovic to continue taking center stage—and center court—as Djoker looks to make more strides in dethroning Nadal as the world No. 1.
Considering that Djokovic pushed Nadal to five sets in the semifinals at Roland Garros last season, he can draw on that along with Sunday's success in his bid to notch the final leg of the career Grand Slam.