Sunday, 22 April 2012

Nadal Wins Record 8th Monte Carlo Masters

Monte Carlo remained a clay constructed stronghold for Rafael Nadal today, after he defeated Novak Djokovic in resounding fashion to claim the tournament for the 8th consecutive time, snapping a 7 match losing streak to the Serb in the process. His octet of titles is a staggering achievement, and will likely never be repeated by another player. He holds the record for most consecutive titles won at one tournament; most consecutive titles at a Masters series tournament and and a host of other records which can only attest further to his complete domination of the surface. But he was up against a man threatening to create blots on that record after he handed two defeats in clay finals to Nadal last year without even dropping a set. A lot was on the line for Nadal today, but he produced a commanding performance to subdue an already subdued looking Novak Djokovic.

All elements of his game were clicking today as he managed to buffer himself against the attacking strategies Djokovic had used so successfully against him in their last 7 encounters. He played consistently aggressively with excellent depth off both wings, changed pace expertly and most noteworthy, served with conviction, direction and variety against the best returner in the world right now. He dictated points for the majority of the match and did not get sucked into the same tactics which had failed in his previous attempts to stop Djokovic during his imperial run which started last year. Djokovic was visibly not at his best today, committing over double his winner count in unforced errors, but that does not detract from Nadal's fine performance. By habitude, Monte Carlo is the springboard from which Nadal galvanises himself to dominate during the clay court season up to Wimbledon, and this was a hugely encouraging display from the world no.2 which banishes the haunt Djokvic has put upon him for the past year or so. Even though Djokovic showed last year that he could stay with Nadal on clay, and that this year he will still be his most dangerous competitor, it is incredible to think that every time Nadal steps on the clay for the first time, his year starts for real, and that he is still the man to beat on la terre battue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Djokovic wins Miami

A superb performance from Novak Djokovic oversaw stolid resistance from Andy Murray in the Sony Ericsson Open to secure a third Miami title for the world no.1. Murray defeated Djokovic recently in Dubai and convincingly, and having benefited from two walkovers most would have expected him to have the physical edge over the Serb. But Djokovic quickly established a level of play that Murray struggled to keep up with and took the first set with ease at 6-1, coming through a 10 minute plus fourth game to break the Scot and take control of the match. The second set was much, much tighter and on display was brilliant re-direction of pace from both players, astounding defence and some punishing rallies in the Miami heat. Murray and Djokovic are very similar players, but the fine line which distinguishes one from the other was visible yesterday throughout the match, and that was ultimately the difference in the second set tiebreaker. After having recovered a mini break after going down 2-0 in the breaker, Murray gave the initiative straight back by double faulting to go 3-1 down. A Djokovic victory seemed inevitable after that point, and he comfortably saw the match out. Murray is still slightly lacking in mental fortitude when he needs it the most, and should he have held his nerve in the tiebreaker, he would have given himself a good chance to clinch the third set. Of course, it is all very well to suggest that it is a weakness to lack nerves of steel at the right moments, but Murray sometimes needs to hold his focus longer so he doesn't throw those moments away, as he did in the tiebreaker - another example was at the Australian Open where he led Djokovic by two sets to one. Djokovic comparatively held his nerve at those pressure points in the match, ensuring he was watertight when he needed to be, playing with controlled aggression, and notably he served uncannily when Murray started knocking on the door during his service games. Djokovic has to be pleased with his form right now going into the clay court season. He hasn't exerted himself unduly by getting into any marathons with Rafael Nadal (that is likely to be scheduled in Monte Carlo) and he has so far defended the points he accrued from last year, dropping little ground to his chasers, Nadal and Federer. The prospect of an early clay showdown between Nadal and Djokovic in Monte Carlo could set the tone for the rest of the clay court season and it will be fascinating to see how it shapes the road to Roland Garros.