• Tennistalk's No. 2 match of 2012: Nadal vs. Djokovic

    12/7/12 4:13 PM | Ricky Dimon
    Tennistalk's No. 2 match of 2012: Nadal vs. Djokovic Tennistalk's countdown of 2012's Top 10 matches continues with its second best match of the year, Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic in the French Open final. Nadal beat his nemesis to win his seventh Roland Garros title.

    2. Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 - French Open final

    In no other 2012 match were the stakes higher than the French Open final between Djokovic and Nadal. Djokovic was bidding to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, having previously triumphed at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2011 and earlier this season at the Australian Open. Nadal was aiming to surpass Bjorn Borg with what what would be the Spaniard's seventh Roland Garros title. Of course, Nadal really needed to win this for a different reason: he had had finished runner-up to Djokovic in all three prior majors. A clean sweep of four straight would be tough to recover from, even for one of the game's all-time best in mental strength like Nadal.

    The six-time champion and two-time defending champion was not about to let that happen. The match lasted three hours and 50 minutes across two rain-delayed days, while featuring a total of 241 total points played. Of those 241 points, a mere 29 ended with a Nadal unforced error. Despite such quality, such ruthless precision, the King of Clay still found himself nearly pushed to a fifth set.

    If a previous stoppage had benefited Djokovic, it was Nadal who was let off the hook when officials suspended play with Djokovic leading by a break in the fourth set at 2-1. The top-ranked Serb had also won the third, but when they came back out on Monday it was Nadal's turn to seize the momentum. After he broke right away for a 2-2 with a clean backhand pass, both men played brilliant service games en route to a 6-5 Nadal advantage. Djokovic led 30-15 while serving to stay in the championship, but he lost three straight points--including the last with a double-fault.

    "I felt great on the court," Djokovic assured. "We almost played four hours. I thought we played a fantastic match where people hopefully enjoyed yesterday and today. It's beautiful, you know. These matches make you feel like all the work that you put into it is worth it."

    "I have great rivals, but even if it's good era of tennis, playing against fantastic players, I'm more than happy to enjoy matches like I had," Nadal said when asked if he felt unlucky to be in an era with Djokovic and Roger Federer. "I enjoyed a lot the final. I suffered, but I enjoyed.... In Australia I was not in a very good shape, mentally speaking. I could have won, but for mental reasons, I was probably not in the best mental status. Now I made it. I did everything I could to win this match. For me, it's great emotion."

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Part 2 - atch?v=oaUJTCtV-SM

RickyDimon , 12/7/12 4:14 PM

Why unlucky with Fed and Nole in the same era? In fact he's lucky, as winning over them proved his worth and further sealed his own legacy. To be able to beat the best of the generation before his own, and to beat one of the best among his peers, that speaks volume about his(Rafa's) greatness. He earned his 11 slams the hard way, beating Fed 6 times and Nole twice in slam finals.

luckystar , 12/7/12 5:50 PM

Exactly lucky. Excellent point. And he ain't done yet.


Conspirator , 12/7/12 6:38 PM

No, this was the Match of the Year.


Conspirator , 12/7/12 6:50 PM

Rafa Nole AO was too long and the wrong guy won.

Conspirator , 12/7/12 6:52 PM

Fed and Nole are the unlucky ones to be in Nadal's era.

The AO final could have been a contender for greatest match of all time except that Fed quickly stamped on that saying it was just too long because the two players took too much time between points. It's significant that all the great matches of this era involve Rafa.

nadline , 12/7/12 7:52 PM

Beating a guy 6 years older in tennis years is not a great feat, as some would think. Six years is a huge gap between players.

I mentioned the AO final on another thread. It was a mixed reaction from fans. Some saw it as Epic due to its length, and others, including experts found it to be boring, pong tennis.

Nadal is not the only player who has won his slams the hard way. All slam winners have to play 7 matches, and that's not winning easily.

scoretracker , 12/8/12 1:29 AM

But beating the best player of the generation before his own, in a slam when one was only 19 and that player was in his prime, now that's no mean feat. Rafa started doing that when he's 19 and had been beating that player in a slam since, every year from 2005 to 2009, no mean feat (especially when that player was still winning slams when playing against others!)

Of course Rafa is not the only guy who won slams the hard way; but he's the one who managed to beat two great players of different generations multiple times in slams!

luckystar , 12/8/12 1:50 AM

It's not the length of the match that determines it's quality. Fed vs Raonic with all the short points was equally boring. IMO, a contrast in style makes for a more watchable match. Murray/Tsonga, Rafa/Berdych and Nole/Delpo, all make for better viewing pleasures.

luckystar , 12/8/12 2:30 AM


I agree with your comment that it's not the length but the quality. Well said! I think the Rafa/Nole match was filled with brilliant shot-making and many ups and downs in momentum. To see Rafa fight back when it looked like all was lost in that fourth set, is what makes a match great. He won a tiebreak to force a fifth set.

I don't think anyone here thinks that Rafa is the only player who wins his matches the hard way. Nole and Murray and Fed have all had their share of tough, well-earned victories.

One thing about Rafa - no one can ever question the quality of the players he had to beat from the time he began playing. He was able to beat Fed when no one else could and those early victories foreshadowed what was to come.

Rafa had had to beat the best. There will never be a weak era argument leveled at his accomplishments, which only makes them even more impressive.

Nativenewyorker , 12/8/12 3:28 AM

In this match both players were never playing well at the same time, Nadal was playing well to start the match but then when it started to rain Djokovic picked up his game and Nadal started making errors.

tennis2011 , 12/9/12 12:47 AM

Ricky Dimon Where is Rosol vs Nadal match in your list? dont tell me that wasnt a good match.

tennis2011 , 12/9/12 12:52 AM


Conspirator , 12/9/12 1:38 AM

tennis2011 - I'm not sure. Not in my Top 15. Maybe in my Top 20.

RickyDimon , 12/9/12 3:34 AM

Rafa vs Rosol - not exactly a good match with that 45 mins stoppage that disturbed the rhythm of the players when there's not even rain or darkness! At least that FO final was stopped by rain and then darkness, something unavoidable.

luckystar , 12/9/12 7:16 AM

Agree with lucky at 2.30am. The best matches are often between players of contrasting styles. Loved last Andy v Llodra match. Pure pleasure. Having said that I enjoy (hmm "enjoy" not quite right word when Mr M is in the equation...) Andy/Nole/Rafa matches. They are like games of chess.
However, the matches I really like are the ones where I have no emotional investment....expect most feel the same lol.

deuce , 12/9/12 7:47 AM

There's nothing contrasting when Nadal plays Murray. They play pretty much the same way. Djokovic and Murray same thing. It's simply pong, pong, and more pong, with those 3, and in the end, it's who can run faster, and bash the ball the hardest.

Federer brings a contrasting style coz he does not play like the others. He's more touch rather than pong, pong and pong.

It's strange that when others talk about previous matches, etc., it's called revisonist history and propaganda, by some so-called experts, but only when some go into the, *if this, and if that* lamentations, and had it not been for this or that blah, blah, blah, then it's OK and nothing's history. Double standards big time. Get this, anything that happened prior to today, is history. Today, will be history tomorrow, coz that's the way it is with time, which does not stand still. Thus anyone recalling a past event, is plain old revisionist history, or plain old history, with revisionistic thinking and wish and hoping.

The rosol match should be in the top 10 group of matches, coz he was playing super tennis, and was definitely in the zone.

scoretracker , 12/10/12 2:04 AM

rafa-roger rivalry is the most diverse out there, true ! i dont think djokovic vs fed or fed vs murray is as diverse as fed-rafa, its the most diverse rivalry out there . Andy vs nole is very much similar to rafa vs nole BUT andy vs rafa can be different ! there have been many matches where andy employs a wider range of tactics where we see him doing some serve & volleying, throwing in some drop shots , approaching the net more often ! andy knows he has to do diff stuff to beat rafa, he cant outlast him...andy always has ranked rafa as his toughest opponent ! he has the highest respect for rafa and its noticeable since 2007 that andy plays MUCH MORE aggressively agaisnt rafa then he does against others (incl roger and nole )...only in their recent matches has andy started playing aggressive tennis consistently against nole esp...

vamosrafa , 12/10/12 3:04 AM


I really am happy to see you posting here again. I wish you would so so more often, because you do have something to say.

I agree with your comments about Rafa/Andy being a wonderful contrast of styles. It is true that Andy has employed a more aggressive game against Rafa, out of sheer necessity. It's not easy to hang with Rafa and outlast him on the baseline.

I think it's a real shame to reduce the styles of Rafa, Nole and Andy to just who can run faster and hit harder. That is a complete oversimplification of what these three bring to a tennis match. All three of these men have the ability to play aggressive, moving into the court to close out points at net. Rafa's net game has been so underrated that it's a crime. He is so effective when he takes the opportunity to go to net.

Andy also has the ability to change it up. He has had to play more aggressively against Nole at times. Baseline may be the bread and butter of these three men, but they are all capable of changing tactics and bring great variety of shots. If they were only baseliners who just tried to run and outhit their opponents, then they would not have had the success that they have enjoyed.

I think Andy started playing more aggressively against Nole out of necessity. Especially in 2011, it seemed that no one could stay with Nole at the baseline. Andy showed off those tactics in the 2011 semifinal at Rome. He lost the first set in lopsided fashion, 1-6. Then Andy decided to move into the court to return Nole's serves. This tactic changed things up and let Murray take the early advantage in rallies. We all know the result of this match. Andy came back to win the second set and had his chance to win in the third set. But he didn't get it done and Nole prevailed.

Many have wanted Andy to play more aggressively in his matches. It's not necessary for any of these three to play aggressively all the time. It's about changing their tactics to gain the advantage over their opponents.

Rafa has become a complete player. He has managed to incorporate a more aggressive game successfully. I well remember when Rafa moved up to the baseline in his quarterfinal match with Berdy in the 2011 AO. There was Rafa, standing at the baseline and returning backhand cc shots for winners. It was a key tactical change that got him back in that match.

I think it makes sense to appreciate all of the aspects that the top four bring to this sport. If one wants to get picky, Fed is also primarily a baseline player. But he has a different approach in which his quick footwork and speed allows him to generate great power in his shots. We all know that he can play an aggressive game, coming to net and hitting volleys for winners. But it's not like he is the only one who can do that.

I believe that lumping Nole, Andy and Rafa into a group without discussing their individual games, really is a disservice.

Nativenewyorker , 12/10/12 4:36 AM

And between them they've hogged Nos.1-4 since 2008. That must be a record in itself.

ed251137 , 12/10/12 12:41 PM

That WTF 2010 SF between Rafa and Murray was a great match. Both made use of all parts of the court and not just stayed at the baseline and rallied all day. To me, that's the best BO3 sets match in that year. Rafa/Andy Wimbledon 2010 SF and Rafa/Nole 2010 USO final are all very interesting and exciting BO5 matches that year; there're no let downs until maybe the last set of that USO final. It was definitely of a better quality than the USO SF match between Fed/Nole, where Fed went walkabout during the match in set two and four. So, Rafa/Nole/Murray all can play exciting tennis, it's a matter of how they play on the day itself during the match. If they can't produce their best, then their matches may turn tedious. Fed too, if he shank all the way, his match is ugly to watch. Fed's match can be tedious too, like his Wimbledon 2010 R1 match; AO 2009 match vs Berdych; his Wimbledon 2011 QF match vs Tsonga. He basically hung in there until his opponent(s) started feeling the pressure and couldn't sustain their high level; not all of Fed's matches were quick and efficient, many were error prone and ugly with all the shanking.

luckystar , 12/10/12 5:17 PM

lucky: it is rare for you to slip up on a statistic but Federer was beaten by Tsonga in that Wimbledon QR. By coincidence I have just posted a comment on that very match on the 'Feeling the Pain' thread.

ed251137 , 12/10/12 6:06 PM


I think that 2010 WTF semifinal is an excellent example of what I was talking about in my previous post. That one was a classic and far from boring. There were ebbs and flows throughout the match. Rafa won the first set, but then Andy came storming back to break him twice to win the second set. That third set was a battle royale. Rafa and Andy battled back and forth and both showed off their all court game. There was a nice mix of aggressive and defensive tennis. Both plsyers showed their considerable range of shots.

That match was decided in a third set tb. Rafa seemed to be on the verge of losing, but then pulled out one of his Houdini acts to get the win. I agree that it was the best BO3 sets matches that year. I don't think anyone was bored or lamenting the caliber of play!

Again you have managed to bring up some good examples of Fed matches that illustrated what can happen when he is off his game. Fed's shanking can be ugly stuff to watch.

I believe that ed is correct about the Fed/Tsonga QF match in the 2011 Wimbledon. Didn't Fed go up two sets and then manage to lose the next three sets for the first time in a slam?

My point has been that it doesn't serve to make generalities about Rafa/Nole/Andy. They are in the top four for a reason. You cannot have real success in this sport if you don't have the ability to play both aggressive and defensive tennis. I think the key is knowing when to use each style of play.

Nativenewyorker , 12/10/12 10:05 PM

Ahem, don't tell me Fed doesn't rely on his foot speed when he plays. Fed also ran like crazy when he played against the top players. Don't tell me he didnt run and run!! Even against Delpo at the WTF this year, he was forced to defend more and made to run! Among the top ten, at least the top five are very good with their foot speed and so playing against each other,
they'll make each other run! Take away Fed's speed, we see him playing like a Blake or a Haas, with maybe a bit more varieties; he'll shank even more than he does now.

Why was he beating everyone else until Rafa came along, followed by Nole and Murray? It's because no one could match his speed and placement and they could only watch when the ball fly passed them. When Rafa appeared, he was able to get to those balls and he had even better foot speed than Fed and so we saw Fed meeting his match. Nole and Murray too were quick enough to match Fed and so we saw them turning the table against Fed when their game matures. I don't see many of Fed's peers matching him because they're either too slow or just not as talented, unlike those three younger guys (Rafa/Nole/Murray) who are both quick and talented (and come with good anticipatory skills and are able to read Fed's moves).

luckystar , 12/11/12 1:36 AM

Yes, Fed didn't beat Tsonga in that Wimbledon match, just like he didn't beat Nole in the USO semfinals, when the matches went the distance. In these cases his opponents were able to sustain their good levels and hung in there to win. My point still stand though, that Fed also played some long tedious matches, just like his three younger counterparts in the top four, especially when they're not playing well.

I see Rafa finishing off his matches swiftly too, like his match against Roddick at the USO 2012 for example. Rafa also played aggressively against Berdych at Rome, and against Ferrer at the FO. It all depends on the type of opponents one has to face; it's certainly more difficult to play aggressive tennis against a Delpo than say against a Simon. Delpo could simply hit through his opponent and so put his opponent into defensive position; while playing against Simon, one has to be aggressive and hit through him, if not you're in for a long day.

luckystar , 12/11/12 1:59 AM

^^^Correction, I mean Rafa finishing his match swiftly against Roddick at USO 2011 of course (when Rafa didn't even play at USO 2012!)

luckystar , 12/11/12 2:03 AM

Current ATP-rankings

1. Djokovic 12 500 pts
2. Murray 8 750 pts
3. Federer 8 670 pts
4. Ferrer 6 970 pts
5. Nadal 6 385 pts

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