Since 2005, Rafael Nadal has been the undisputed proprietor of the red dirt. Anyone intending to set up camp on his estate would have to muscle him out. This year, Novak Djokovic has come with eviction notice in hand. Djokovic stunned Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia to collect his second straight clay ATP Masters 1000 championship trophy.
Last week, when Djokovic defeated Nadal in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open, it could have been dismissed as a fluke. Moreover, after being four points from kissing his perfect season goodbye and needing over three hours to get by Andy Murray in the semifinals, Djokovic appeared at a distinct disadvantage against Nadal. Yet this season, Djokovic, the 2008 champion in Rome, knows no limit.
After the first seven game of the match went to the server, Djokovic manufactured double break point when Nadal’s forehand sailed long. When the Spaniard flubbed the backhand, Djokovic captured the break for a 5-3 lead in the first set.
However, with Djokovic serving for the set, Nadal forced the Serb into a forehand mistake to arrive at double break point. When Djokovic dumped the forehand into the net, Nadal banked the break.
Unfazed by his prior miscue, Djokovic pressured Nadal and fabricated another break point. With a backhand crosscourt winner, Djokovic sealed the initial set.
Subsequent to easily holding serve, Djokovic obtained a break point in a game where Nadal was in control 40-0. After Nadal salvaged the first break point, Djokovic produced a second by inciting Nadal into a mistake. With Nadal slicing a backhand wide, Djokovic jumped to a 2-0 lead.
Although Nadal quickly broke to get back on serve, Djokovic kept the Spaniard on his back foot. Nadal had to erase double break point before squaring the set at 2 all.
It’s a strange sight witnessing Nadal being pushed around on clay, Djokovic had an answer to every shot. The angles the Serb generated were surreal, even the net courts were partisan with the majority favoring Djokovic.
With Nadal sending a forehand wide on game point, Djokovic inched ahead 5-4 in the second set. Later, following a sensation backhand crosscourt winner by Djokovic, Nadal committed his second backhand error of the game handing Djokovic triple break point. Somehow though, Nadal found a way to knot the game at deuce.
But, when Nadal had another forehand go long, Djokovic had his fourth championship point. With a powerful stroke provoking Nadal into a mistake, Djokovic grabbed the game and his second trophy in Rome.
Coming into this tournament, Nadal had to reach the semifinals in order to maintain his number one ranking. In his first match, Nadal fended off Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi, overcoming losing the first set and a tight second set. Now, it looks like a matter of time before Djokovic also yanks the number one ranking away from the Spaniard.
Djokovic improved his 2011 record to 37-0 and has a 39-0 mark since November 2010, the sixth longest winning streak in the open era. In addition, Djokovic became the first individual since Roger Federer and Nadal to carry four Masters 1000 in the same year since 2005.
Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome represent the finals where Nadal and Djokovic have clashed this year. On all these occasions, Nadal had gotten the short end of the stick.
Last year, on clay, Nadal was undefeated winning all three Masters 1000 clay tournaments and the French Open. Prior to today, Nadal had never lost two consecutive clay court finals.
The biggest clay court test commences in a week. Nadal is the defending and five time champion at Roland Garros.
Will Djokovic continue to have Nadal’s number in a five set French Open final? Currently, Djokovic certainly seems untouchable.