It was a titanic battle that ebbed and flowed like the sea. Fitting for two Gods of the tennis court.
Nadal started in positive style while Djokovic looked remarkably subdued. People started whispering about his tender wrist. The Spaniard went up 4-1 before something sparked to life inside of the Serb and he came back firing winners. Suddenly the score was 3-4 0-40 = three break-back points to level the score. The audience gasped at the drama.
But the King of Clay is not the King of Clay for nothing. He is a fighter, a gladiator, a man of remarkable qualities. He saved four break points and held for 5-3. In the end he won the first set 6-4.
The quality of tennis had gone up at that point and Djokovic’s eyes were wide open like he was taking part in a staring contest. He wasn’t going to lay down and die.
The first three games of the second set was just display of Djokovician power and accuracy. Shots whistled by Nadal, who, sometimes, can look remarkably helpless against his main rival (sorry Federer).
And Nadal did look helpless for three games. Then the Spanish lion roared again and managed to get back in the second set. He was serving at 2-3 down, but a double-fault lost the momentum and Djokovic sealed the set 6-3.
At that point it felt like anything could happen in the match. Would Djokovic keep painting the lines with his powerful groundstrokes or would Nadal do what he so often does – find that inner strength and out-fight his for the moment better playing opponent?
You felt like the answer was there after the first game – Djokovic kept his foot on the gas and broke Nadal in the first game. Then he held serve and managed to get a break point on Nadal’s serve for a double break. The match seemed to be over and the world number 1 looked lost on court.
But this wouldn’t be a “Rafole” without some extra drama and Nadal somehow managed to hold that game and get back to 3-3. Suddenly the match was open again. After a couple of tough matches leading up to the final, it seemed like the question about who wanted it the most coupled with who had more fuel in the tank would decide. Usually, the answer to that question would be Nadal, but Djokovic is not an ordinary player – he’s in fact the only player who seems to be remotely close to “solving” the Rafa riddle – how to beat the great man on clay.
And so it came to be that Djokovic found his dominant form from the beginning of the second set and rattled off three straight games and took the match 4-6 6-4 6-3.
I only have one word to describe that: Impressive.
This should give Djokovic the confidence that he has a really good opportunity to win that elusive Grand Slam trophy in Paris in a few weeks time. He knows how to beat Nadal on clay and made the Spaniard look unusually human at times in Rome.
If we get the dream final at Roland Garros, I’ll definitely pick Djokovic as having the upper hand despite Nadal’s previous clay dominance. He may finally have found the key to beating his rival in best of five. If he does, he’ll be number one in the world again.
But no matter what, you can never count out the resilience of Rafael Nadal…