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Nadal vs Djokovic: a mind game

by TN

I think everybody talked a lot about the physicality of the Nadal vs Djokovic final, but I think the lesson is really how MENTAL (and by that I don’t mean crazy!) the sport of tennis is. The guys sure pushed the boundaries of the human body, clocking in the hard-fought affair at almost six hours of running, hitting, stretching and grunting. Fitness was a big part of the match, but what made Djokovic win was his confidence in this particular match-up right now.

If this final had taken place a year ago, before Djokovic had beaten Nadal in those six consecutive finals, then the mental game and the scoreline would have been completely different. Right now Nadal doesn’t have enough confidence in his game against Djokovic to beat him, just like Federer can’t find the key to beating Nadal (at least on the big occasions), not matter how close it sometimes seems.

Nadal raised his game above both the performance in the Wimbledon and US Open finals and it was so, so close, being up 4-2 in the fifth set, but it still wasn’t enough to win. The reason I’m sure is that he never really, really believed he would win while Djokovic always seemed almost sure of it.

Of course it’s not only a mental issue when it comes to this weird trio, Federer being unable to defeat Nadal, Nadal almost seeing it impossible to beat Djokovic and Djokovic and Federer on almost even terms, it’s of course also how the games match up. Against Federer, Nadal can get his massive slingshot top-spin forehands to kick up on Federer’s weaker backhand wing, eventually drawing out the error (and in a five set match errors will eventually come), but against Djokovic that strategy is futile as the Serb is far more comfortable on his backhand wing. Without that weakness Nadal finds it difficult to find a proper game plan and during long stretches in the match against Djokovic it was far too obvious.

Djokovic vs Federer is a far more even match-up, even now. They both like fast-paced courts, taking the ball on the rise and standing close to the baseline. They both have strong serves and great movement. This is also why the rivalry is far more even now, than Federer-Nadal and Nadal-Djokovic.

It would be interesting to see what would happen to the dynamics if we could throw a fourth player in the mix. Murray perhaps? He showed he sure wants to be in the mix for the slams against Djokovic in the semis, but he needs to raise his game to pose a real threat of winning a slam in 2012. If he does that we might get a very interesting foursome, a quartet of players with almost superhuman tennis abilities.

Something like The Fantastic Four.

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