Nemesis Nadal as curfew interrupts thrilling duel
years ago had been when would tennis see the real Djokovic again. The answer was now.
Djokovic gives Nadal a challenge no other player can. Pinning the Serbian in his backhand corner, Nadal’s number one tactic, only plays to Djokovic’s strength, and his speed and ability to not just soak up pace but send it back with interest left his opponent looking rushed.
Nadal also had the near fivehour match against Juan Martin del Potro on Wednesday in his legs and, after saving two break points in the fifth game, it was no surprise to see Djokovic move 4-3 ahead before serving out the set to love.
Only seven of their previous 51 meetings had been won by the player who lost the opening set, so it was a major boost to Djokovic’s hopes, but he knew when he failed to take any of three break points early in the second that he had given Nadal a way back in.
Djokovic recovered from a poor service game with an excellent returning one to get back to 2-3 but Nadal’s forehand was at its snarling best and he broke again before fending off more break points to level the match.
With the time approaching 10pm, that made it highly unlikely there would be a winner yesterday, and both players knew how important that third set was likely to be.
The momentum was with Nadal but Djokovic’s serve, which was so disrupted by the elbow problems that prompted him finally to have surgery in February, kept him just about out of danger.
A stunning tie-break was a fitting conclusion to the day’s play. After recovering from a poor volley that left him 4-2 down, Nadal did his best to pummel Djokovic off the court with his forehand, but the Serbian would not yield.
Nadal will rue missing two returns, while he got a taste of his own medicine on the second chance when Djokovic feathered a drop shot over the net.
Djokovic was cursing himself for missing a return as the clock ticked to 11pm but on the final lung-busting rally, it was Nadal who faltered first.
Time to think: Rafael Nadal is playing catch-up but will have a while to gather his thoughts before the resumption of play