One week after his triumph at the French Open, Rafael Nadal, the two time Wimbledon finalist, defeated Novak Djokovic in a grueling match to win his first grass court title at the Artois Championships 7-6, 7-5.
After surviving a break point in the opening game, Djokovic broke Nadal at love to take a 3-0 lead. With his aggressive play, Djokovic had the chance to take a 4-0 lead, but Nadal fought off multiple breaks points to get on the scoreboard 3-1. In the next game, Djokovic paid the price when a net court gave Nadal the point and the players went back on serve. With his advantage gone, Djokovic showed his displeasure by banging his racket. With Nadal beautifully using angles and constructing points that allowed him to get to net, Rafa was getting under Djokovic’s skin. Appropriately, the first set was decided by a tiebreak. After leading by one mini-break or at even several times, Djokovic had a set point at 6-5 when Nadal made an error. But, thanks to a long rally which knocked Djokovic to the ground, Nadal saved the set 6-6. On the next point, despite a great serve by Djokovic, Nadal had an even better reply. This led to Rafa’s first set point which was all he needed to things up.
Djokovic got off to an inauspicious start in the second set and was broken at love. After dismissing a break point on his serve, Nadal extended his lead 2-0. After being down 15-40, Djokovic battled back to get on the board 2-1. Finally, in the sixth game, Djokovic had a break opportunity and converted 3-3. Nadal had double break point in the eight game; but lady luck smiled on Novak. First, with a bad bounce then, with Rafa losing his footing, Novak held his serve.
Djokovic built on that momentum by breaking Nadal at love with some spectacular shots 5-4. Thus, it appeared that a decisive third set would be played. As Djokovic served for the set, Nadal produced a terrific defensive lob in a rally to ultimately earn a break point. After getting to deuce a couple of times, Nadal’s persistence paid dividend and he leveled the set at 5-5. After easily holding his own, Nadal pressured Djokovic’s serve with shots such as a forehand down the line for a winner. When Novak misfired on a volley, Nadal arrived at match point. On the subsequent play, Nadal lured Djokovic to the net with a drop volley and put away the winner to prevail in the tournament.
In doubles, after defeating the Bryan brothers, the number one seed, in the quarterfinals, Marcelo Melo/Andre Sa faced the second seed, Daniel Nestor/ Nenad Zimonjic, in the finals. Team Nestor/ Zimonjic won the title in straights sets 6-4, 7-6.
In the quarterfinals, Nadal survived a barrage of aces, 35, from Ivo Karlovic to advance by winning a third set tiebreak. In the semifinals, Rafa had a fairly routine win over defending champion Andy Roddick. On the other hand, Djokovic’s path was less sinuous with his dismissal of Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals and a thumping victory over David Nalbandian in the semifinals, the latter won one game. If this match is a preview of what’s in store for Wimbledon, those two weeks will be quite exciting.