Day 8 @MutuaMadridOpen: Nadal Dismantles Djokovic
Nadal defeats Djokovic to make final
Niall Clarke in Madrid
Meeting number 50 between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was undoubtedly the main event of the day, but under the bright sunshine of Madrid, it was the first singles action on Manolo Santana court.
Anticipation was high, there was a buzz surrounding the match that had hardly been felt all tournament. This was a big match, and everyone knew it. Nadal was seemingly back to something that resembles his best, but there were still doubts on how good his level is in 2017. A match against Djokovic was no doubt going to answer the questions. Is Rafa back? Or has it been the luck of draw that has helped him through?
From the minute a ball was struck, you knew Nadal was hitting with a purpose. This was a more confident Nadal that had lost the previous seven matches, he was hardly missing a ball. A stark contrast to Djokovic who looked flat and out of sorts.
The crowd erupted with the first break in the opening game, then again when the Spaniard managed to break at 2-0. There was almost a sense of shock around the Caja Magica after Nadal made it 4-0, they expected another titanic battle in arguably the sport’s greatest rivalry, what they were getting was a beat down. A set point came and went on the Djokovic serve, but Nadal was not to be denied again. At the first attempt, he served out the set 6-2, and unlike before the match where the questions were all on Rafa, it was Djokovic who needed to find the answers.
Little worked for the second seed as no matter what he tried, the points were going the way of the Spaniard. Nadal broke early in the second and looked like he was cruising into another Madrid final, then at 2-1 it seemed like the Serbian had woken up. It was Djokovic’s best game of the match as he hit the backhand well to break Nadal back. Game on… or so it seemed. Business, at least for this match, went back to normal the following game when Nadal broke again. It was surely the killer blow, but Djokovic fought back to save two match points and earn break point in the last game. Nadal saved it, and went on to successfully see the match out and continue his bid for a fifth title in Madrid.
“Rafa was obviously a better player today.” Djokovic said in his post match press conference.
“He deserved to win. I mean, he was controlling the game from beginning to the end. Second set was a bit closer. Maybe I had some chances to be in the lead, 2-All. Was a long game. I lost the break there.”
“But, you know, all in all, I did try my best. It wasn’t a very high quality of tennis from my side. I mean, I made a lot of unforced errors, especially first set.”
“Just his quality was very high. You know, he managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set. I was getting a lot of balls back. He was serving well. He was using his court positioning well.
“Today was warmer than last three, four days, so conditions were quite different. The ball was bouncing very high. Well, he managed to be better in these kind of conditions.”
Despite the loss, the former world number one believes that this has been a positive week for him as he searches to find his best tennis once again.
“Well, first of all, it was really good to play in semifinals of big event, and to play against one of the top rivals I have in my life.” Djokovic added.
“I haven’t had that feeling in months, so it’s great to feel that. It was a positive week, a positive experience. I take, as I say, more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome. As I go along, I hope to continue getting better and getting stronger.
“I felt like I was playing well throughout the week. Today maybe slightly I could have played better. But, again, I just had an opponent that was too good. Well, I have to move on. Semifinals is a good result. Hopefully I’ll have another good result in Rome.”
Not only was it a big win for Nadal here, but it also could serve as a huge psychological boost for the Spaniard heading into the French Open. Nadal had not taken a set off Djokovic since the French Open final in 2014, so to win resoundingly puts the world number five in good stead as he seeks ‘La Decima’ at Roland Garros. However, Nadal was not thinking of the seven previous losses to Djokovic.
“I said it yesterday. It’s one more match.” Nadal said in his post match press conference.
“What’s important to me is to make it to another final. As years go by, depending on the type of victories, can fulfill you a little bit more or less. As time goes by, what is important is the titles, not the opponents that you have beaten. It’s just the titles that you have won.
“It’s true that some matches are more important than others. But I’m just here to try to make it the best possible way, to play my best tennis, and of course to beat an opponent such as Novak, it gives you a lot of confidence. It shows you you’re working in the right way.
“But it’s just another match. As I said yesterday, it gives me another opportunity to win another title, which is important to me.”
Djokovic labelled Nadal as the favourite for the French Open after his performance today, and it may be hard to disagree.
“The only favorite is the one that plays really well during those two weeks.” Nadal responded.
“The reality is that whoever achieves that is going to be able to win the trophy the second Sunday.”
Thiem defeats Cuevas
Dominic Thiem will meet Nadal in the final after a straight sets win over Pablo Cuevas.
The Austrian broke in the fifth game of the match to give himself a 3-2 lead early. He had chances to earn a double break at 4-2, but Cuevas was able to save two break points and hold. Thiem had little trouble on serve and closed out the set 6-4.
The Austrian was very much in control of the match, and earned a 0-40 chance In the opening game of the second set, but Cuevas saved all three plus one more break point to keep the set on serve. Thiem would eventually get his break at 4-4, then successfully serve out the match to make his first Masters 1000 final.
Thiem will play Nadal in Sunday’s final, hoping to replicate the success he had against the Spaniard in Buenos Aires last year. Nadal has won the other three meetings all in straight sets, all on clay.
“I feel great. Of course, I mean, it means a lot to me to play a finals. My first finals in this level. These kind of tournaments are so strong, so it’s amazing for me to go that far. I’m very happy at the moment.” Thiem said post match.
The last time Thiem played Nadal was in Barcelona earlier this year in which Nadal won in straight sets.”
“Well, I mean, I think he played a very, very good match in Barcelona. First set there was I think close. I also played well.”
“But obviously even if I’m at my best and he’s at his best on clay, probably he’s the better player. If you see his records on this surface, it’s just amazing. But, yeah, tomorrow is a new day. I will try to improve the things I didn’t do that good in Barcelona and then we will see what happens.”
Thiem is not only trying his hand (successfully) at tennis, he has also been challenged to a charity touchtennis match by 20 time grand slam champion Rashid Ahmad. He has also been offered a wildcard into touchtennis events.
“I mean, I just saw some videos on Facebook. Of course, I really like it. I mean, every tennis player likes these kind of games.” Thiem said of the challenge.”
“So, yeah, we somehow set up a charity match. Maybe in the future I’m going to get a wild card in one event of this touch tennis. Yeah, I mean, I never played it. I just know the guy over Facebook. It would be very interesting to try it out.”