May/19

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Match Analysis: Djokovic vs Nadal Rome Final

By Scoop Malinowski

First set Nadal comes out with full ferocity and a sense of desperation. He has not win a clay tournament all year and urgently needs to win the final in Rome to restore and re-establish his King of Clay dominant aura as Roland Garros looms around the corner.

Nadal dominates Djokovic 6-0 but as Nadal has that facial expression of fierce ruthless intensity, Djokovic looks tired and not all there mentally.

In the second set Djokovic hangs in there and raises his intensity. He fights out of a 3-3 love-40 deficit and then win the set. The world no. 1 punctuates the set with his trademark fist pump and sneer.

But we know what’s coming in the third set – an even more desperate and fired up Nadal. Nadal is playing as if his career is at stake. And in a sense it is. To lose yet another clay tournament would destroy his aura of invincibility. In a sense this match is the most important match of Nadal’s career. To win means more majors are possible. To lose again, four clay events in a row, reduces Nadal to living off his reputation. Living off the past. In the what have you done for me lately world, Nadal has been shooting blanks this year.

So Nadal is ultra fierce in the third set and he breaks Djokovic in a long first game of the third. Djokovic bashes his Head racquet, he knows he let Nadal off the hook and lost the momentum. Djokovic knows how hard it is to take the momentum away from Nadal in one set on clay.

Djokovic’s fire reduces just a fraction and Nadal capitalizes by playing vintage Rafa flawless king of clay tennis, not missing, moving the ball around and unleashing winners at the right moments.

Nadal is fighting for more than just the Rome title, this is about Roland Garros too and the rest of the year. So Nadal is fighting with everything he has, giving every ounce of his heart and soul to slay Djokovic. Meanwhile Djokovic fades and loses the third set. To my eyes and senses, Djokovic didn’t tank it but he certainly did not fight as hard as we know he can.

Nadal wins 60 46 61. He has regained his aura and is once again the clear favorite heading into Roland Garros. But Nadal has shown vulnerability this spring and it would not be a shock or surprise at all if someone like Del Potro, Thiem, Fognini, Djokovic, Isner or even Federer could upset him on Philippe Chatrier.

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28 comments

  • Alex · May 19, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    Nice writeup but one quibble. It would be a shock for Isner to beat Rafa since he pulled out of Paris last week!

    Other than that, the quote of the week by Rafa on mental strength is below. This will shut up all the idiots supporting Kyrgios’ off-base and insulting criticism of the Spanish legend:

    https://www.reddit.com/r/tennis/comments/bql65r/nadals_answer_on_how_to_be_mentally_strong_in/

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 19, 2019 at 8:03 pm

    Thanks Alex, somehow I missed Isner’s decision to skip RG. Nadal is quite possibly the greatest competitor I have ever seen in any sport ever. Kyrgios is quite possibly the biggest waste of talent in tennis history. Or even Sports history. I can’t think of a bigger waste of talent. Can anyone name a bigger waste of talent in any sport than Nick?

  • Michael in UK · May 20, 2019 at 12:30 pm

    Great post Scoop! Thank you!
    For discerning fans of tennis, not just individual players, this is the best possible backdrop to the French open, from a psychological point of view.
    Surely it’s reasonable to argue that Roger, Novak, and the Next Gen players must all have been fervently hoping (they would never admit it of course) that Rafa wouldn’t get close to the final in Rome.
    But he did, and he won.
    It sends such a strong message, he still wants the title again, and every other player will have to beat him.
    And yes, in the most demanding individual sport that tennis is a team it’s best, Nadal stands as the greatest competitor ever, in my view.
    Looking forward so much to Roland Garros! I hope it will be be fantastic.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 20, 2019 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Michael. Yes Rafa proved he can still win important titles. This one was critical, because the shovels were ready to bury Nadal. Rafa not only wants no. 12 in Paris, he wants it as much as any of the 11. That drive and most of all the confidence from Rome make him very hard to beat. Thiem has paid his dues and should be ready. Tsitsipas too.

  • Alex · May 21, 2019 at 1:11 am

    Now Kyrgios practiced on grass this week before Paris and ripped the French Open on live stream: “The French Open sucks!” “I have to go to Paris.”

    https://twitter.com/Eurosport_FR/status/1130479629737844736/video/1

    What athlete says that about the sport they play? Imagine Kopeka saying The Gritish Open sucks. Or Steph Curry saying “The NBA playoffs suck!” Or Tom Brady saying the “Super Bowl sucks!” It is like he is trying so hard to show that he isn’t trying at tennis compared to Rafa and Novak devoting their lives to becoming champions.

    I gotta wonder about Federer and Murray supporting a loser like Kyrgios. You have to question that. Never seen a bigger loser in any sport.

  • Hartt · May 21, 2019 at 6:41 am

    Nick knows how to get attention. I keep saying I am not going to pay attention to him, or to what he says, but the guy is hard to avoid.

    It seems it doesn’t matter that he isn’t high in the rankings these days. I get that controversy sells, but is he really all that interesting now? A lot of what he says, including his comments about playing on clay, are things he has said before.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 21, 2019 at 7:20 am

    Nick could be the biggest talent waste in sports history. Like a brat he just constantly whines. Rios and kafelnikov complained about playing on grass too. But Nick the rebel malcontent is good for box office. He’s a good sideshow.

  • Leif Wellington Haase · May 21, 2019 at 3:28 pm

    Most athletes who are labelled “busts” are really the result of overhype or, in team sports, the victims of injury or getting drafted by the wrong team at the wrong time. The best counterparts I can think of to Kyrgios– overwhelming talent sabotaged by arrogance, indolence, and an inability to take advice– might be, by sport:

    Basketball: Shawn Kemp, Dejuan Wagner, and Len Bias

    Football: Jamarcus Russell, Vince Young, and Tony Mandarich

    Baseball: Carlos Zambrano

    Soccer: Mario Balotelli and Freddy Adu

    Of this group (and I’m most familiar personally with basketball players) Kemp and Russell are the closest to Nick– players of almost superhuman ability and quite engaging and thoughtful in person, on a good day (I tried without success, at the NIKE camp for high school seniors, to teach Kemp how to take standardized tests and write basic essays– he went directly to the NBA and had a not bad and checkered career but far short of his otherworldly skills).

    Krygios, as a player in an individual sport, has a big advantage…so long as his ranking is high enough to get into tournaments he is an immense draw– with Tsitsipas far and away the greatest of the upcoming generation– and he is shrewd enough to know that playing the villain is a marketable role. For those who see tennis as a pursuit other than WWE, however, it is discouraging to say the least.

  • Hartt · May 21, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, had a long piece on radio-canada. He wrote about the night she won Indian Wells. A reminder of how young she is, there was a little party for her after the match and an organizer was trying to find alcohol-free champagne, because she was too young to drink in California. (She is even too young to drink in her native Ontario, where the legal age is 19.) One of the presents was more useful – a card for In-N-Out Burger, which Bianca was anxious to try.

    He talked about the famous OCC, when he seemed to inspire her to continue to fight. He also discussed the Kerber “drama queen” comment after their match in Miami. He said that Bianca is not a drama queen, but he has a lot of respect for Kerber, and thinks it was just said in the heat of the moment.

    Bruneau was not anxious to take the coaching job when first offered it. He likes Bianca, but he wasn’t keen to give up his job as Canada’s Fed Cup captain. Also, he has a young family, so he did not want to travel a lot. So the agreement was he would travel with Bianca for about 15 weeks of the year, and they will have substitute coaches the other times.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 21, 2019 at 9:35 pm

    Wonder why NAthalie Tauziat is no longer in the picture for Andreescu? I think Andreescu is somewhat of a DQ, which is a good thing, we all like to see the players show emotions and struggling with injuries or struggling with fake injuries is always interesting and adds something to the match.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 21, 2019 at 9:41 pm

    Leif, thanks for your reply. Wasn’t Freddy Adu just overrated? And probably a lot older than his given age so when he was young he was probably much older than the kids he was playing, then when that advantage wore off he was ordinary. What happened to Balotelli? I remember he was great for a while. Len Bias was a great hooper but overusing drugs ruined him. Edwin Valero was an amazing Knockout Machine in boxing a few years ago and he met a tragic fate. Just about to be a superstar. I remember Tony Mandarich being a physical specimen of great strength and power, he flirted with boxing and trainer manager promoter Lou Duva went on Johnny Carson and said Mandarich could be heavyweight champion of the world. But he never had a pro fight. I guess he got KOed in sparring and just didn’t have it.

  • catherine · May 22, 2019 at 1:37 am

    Scoop – you aren’t suggesting Bianca was faking her injury ? No one takes so much time off for a ‘fake injury’ in this part of the year. Bianca, as Hartt points out, is very young and maybe scared that her shoulder is going to put her out of the game. And watching a player struggling with injuries might be ‘interesting’ but it’s certainly not entertaining.

    Kerber should not have said what she did. She is 31 years old and after around 15 years in the game should know how to keep her mouth zipped. She’s can be something of a DQ herself but usually gets away with it. I like Angie as you know but she is not a straightforward person. I hope she and Bianca don’t meet at RG and this whole thing can be forgotten.

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 7:45 am

    It sounds like the rehab for the shoulder injury took longer than expected. Originally Bianca planned to play Fed Cup in April and when that wasn’t possible thought she would play Rome. She has an experienced team, and I imagine they are making sure she did not come back too early.

    I should have kept Bruneau’s interview. He wrote more about the drama queen idea, and I think I was able to translate the French OK. Although he said that he did not think Kerber was right, he did acknowledge that Bianca could tone down her reactions to injury when in a match. He basically said she is still very young.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2019 at 7:52 am

    Hartt, I saw Andreescu play in January on TV and she was hamming it up about some kind of injury in the first set and fatigue then she won in three sets. I always remember when players show this kind of trickery and deception and Andreescu has this cunning quality which I like instead of basic vanilla players. I’m sure Kerber noted it and called her on it. This latest injury could probably be real because she overplayed in IW and Miami, all those matches were too much, she needed a long break to recharge her batteries.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2019 at 7:56 am

    Catherine, we don’t know all the inside story or all the trickery Andreescu may have gained a reputation for. Like I said, I saw Andreescu faking or exaggerating a knee injury in January in the first set and then she won the match in three. We don’t know how many other times she did this kind of stuff which players like Kerber are not going to accept without a retaliation.

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 8:00 am

    Scoop, I think it is more that Bianca will play through the pain of an injury, rather than trickery. But I agree that she is not exactly subtle in her reactions.

    She was having shoulder problems before Miami and probably should not have played that tourney.

    In a Toronto Star article on May 2, they reported Bruneau saying she had not started hitting balls until that week. From the article:

    “She played well in Miami despite the short turnaround from Indian Wells, but had to stop due to a subscapularis muscle tear in the rotator cuff of her right shoulder.

    “She had some PRP (platelet-rich plasma therapy), she had some treatment and she needed to rest it,” Bruneau said.

  • catherine · May 22, 2019 at 8:22 am

    As Bianca grows older and matures (I can’t even remember being 19 actually) she’ll probably learn to deal better with injuries and not panic during a match. Sounds as though she has a solid team.

    You could see Angie starting to get distracted and boiling away and brooding on Bianca’s behaviour and by the time she reached the net she had the line ready. A really strong player with self-belief doesn’t react to opponents that way. Like Lendl playing McEnroe. Most of the time Lendl just ignored Mac’s tantrums.

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I found the Sylvain Bruneau piece again. He tells the story of how they went to an In-N-Out Burger place near the IW tennis site after her title win. He suggested she stay in the car, but she wanted to go inside. There she was so inundated with requests for autographs and pictures that she had to go back to the car.

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 8:24 am

    I hit the wrong button. The rest of the story is that Bruneau said he thinks that was the precise moment that she understood that her life was about to change.

  • catherine · May 22, 2019 at 8:39 am

    Scoop – I think you’re being unfair. To start accusing Bianca of trickery and basically being dishonest when she really hasn’t been around long enough to have built up a history of this kind of thing is a bit OTT.

    She has a tendency to injury as we know. Learning to deal with that and try to achieve her goals in tennis must be extremely difficult at times.

    And Angie’s reputation isn’t pearly white in this regard. She should learn to think less about herself and how her opponents are wronging her and how she can ‘retaliate’ and more about staying focussed on the match. She did this at Wimbledon. And that turned out alright.

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 9:02 am

    Bianca had a shoulder injury in IW and, as we know, that developed into a serious injury in Miami. Bruneau talked about how they ate their burgers in the car while driving to LA, because she had an appointment for therapy there. They arrived so late because of heavy traffic that she had the therapy for two hours starting at 10:30 pm. Doesn’t sound like she was faking anything to me.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Not that injur but the one in January. No she had to be fried and breaking apart at the seems from all that tennis is March, she overdid it and survived. Thank God. That was too much. She needed a break. But I think she is a clever crafty player who has shown in the past she will use trickery and sophisticated gamesmanship to outwit opponents. Important qualities as many of the best champions do it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Catherine, I see it as a good sign for Andreescu that Kerber took that swipe at her. She sees her as a threat and tried to shake her up mentally. Players always snipe at rising young stars. Look at what they did to poor Seles about her grunting. To Djokovic about his injuries and imitations. To Rafa about his water bottles and ticks. Roddick verablly abused young Djokovic and Nishikori and made them both cry in the locker room. Psychological warfare and intimidation are parts of pro tennis. Andreescu is getting too big for her britches, is surely how a lot of the veteran players feel about her ascent.

  • catherine · May 22, 2019 at 10:19 am

    The trouble with this approach is that it’s the veteran players who come out looking bad. The WTA should get down on its knees and pray that Bianca fulfills her promise and women’s tennis doesn’t languish on the sidelines and die of public indifference.

    Sabalenka won her second match today in Strasbourg. If she bounces back from her recent slump I wonder which ‘veteran player’ dare call Aryna out for getting too big for her britches ? Probably end up on the locker room floor 🙂

  • Hartt · May 22, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    Of course the WTA’s big concern is how much the players participate in social media. Bruneau said that after Bianca won IW the WTA actually told her she needed to post more, she was doing it less than other players! Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up!

  • catherine · May 22, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    That’s very interesting. I’ve always been convinced that the WTA makes it compulsory for players to have twitter accounts and actually monitors what they post. Horrifying when you think about it. The WTA is one big corrupt flashy lying sham. And WTA minions have got the brass neck to bang on about authenticity and diversity etc – don’t make me laugh. Makes women look so stupid.

    I wish some decent reporter would expose some of this. Of course all credentials would be instantly withdrawn. So no one will.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    No one will dare try to bully or intimidate Sabalenka, but Su Wei Hsieh told me that the Tour is a tough place. One night in Miami Open she was being demanding on her brother/coach and after the practice she explained it as her trying to toughen him up. Because the Tour is not all nice and glamour, all these girls are out for blood. One retired player told me Navratilova used to “strut around the locker room naked with her man’s body.”

  • catherine · May 23, 2019 at 1:49 am

    I’ve heard that story about Martina so many times. I don’t believe she ever behaved quite like that and I know who the ‘retired player’ was. Martina never had a man’s body – she just developed her muscles in a way which seems quite normal now.

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