Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal played one of the best tennis matches of the year 2011 in the Madrid final. The Madrid tournament is part of the Masters 1000 Series of events on the ATP Tour. These are the nine biggest tournaments after the Grand Slams!
The match was highly anticipated because Novak has not lost a match so far this year, winning the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami in the process. Rafa on the other hand is of course the king of clay and had not lost a match on clay so far this year.
The match was incredible to watch and both players played at a very high level. Djokovic ended up winning the match 7:5 6:4.
Watch the highlights of this incredible match here!
So let’s break down this match in detail and have a look at how Novak managed to finally beat Rafa on clay!
Djokovic came out really strong in the first set. It was very obvious that he was determined to play aggressive and he did what I believe is the key for most guys to beat Rafa: He committed to taking balls extremely early and going for flatter shots that can get past Nadal. This of course is very difficult and takes a lot of confidence!
Throughout the first set Nadal hit mainly to Djokovic’s backhand and Novak kept taking it very early with a lot of success.
He hit quite a few unbelievable backhand winners in the first set. It is easier for Djokovic to take balls that early with his backhand because it is a technically flawless shot. With his forehand it is more difficult for him because of the extreme grip and a more complicated swing where things can go wrong much easier.
Nadal for his part did not play quite aggressive enough but it was not easy for him since Djokovic played extremely well. TennisTV.com showed an interesting statistic at 5:2 in the first set. Up to this point Djokovic hit 18% of his shots inside the baseline and Nadal only 1%!
Djokovic dominated until 5:3 30:00 where he hit an easy forehand from midcourt right at Nadal for a routine passing shot. Nadal then managed to fight back to 5:5 and this is where you could see the improved Djokovic. In the past this situation certainly would have affected him mentally but he stayed calm instead of getting upset at himself!
Djokovic had several setpoints before he won the set, two of which he played a bit tentatively. Again I believe this would have affected him negatively in the past but nowadays he seems to come back even stronger after such setbacks! In the end he deserved the set and won it with aggressive Tennis.
After just losing the first set with a bit of bad luck and after a long hard fight, you would expect most players to be a bit down mentally. Nadal started the second set off incredibly strong though. He changed his tactics a little bit, going more to the Djokovic forehand. He was also very aggressive in the first service game and broke Djokovic right away. Responding to adversity in this fashion is one of the qualities that separates Nadal from most other players!
In the first game of the second set Nadal played what will surely be one of the best shots of the year. Check it out in the video below!
Nadal: Unbelievable lob winner between the legs
Right in the next game though, Novak comes back incredibly strong as well and breaks Rafa to make it 1:1. This to me is another sign that Djokovic really believes nowadays that he can beat Nadal, even on clay. The second set then went on until Nadal served at 4:5. Djokovic came out playing aggressively again and broke Nadal to win the match 7:5 6:4.
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This was a very interesting match and I am sure we will see more of this match-up in big finals in the future.
From a tactical standpoint Novak did what is necessary to beat Rafa. He was aggressive, tried to take lots of balls on the rise and hit a bit flatter than usual.
Rafa on the other hand was not aggressive enough in my opinion. He also spent most of the first set going to the Djokovic backhand. In the future Nadal needs to play Novak?s forehand more, especially going down the line with his own forehand. Djokovic?s forehand tends to break down when someone hits to it in a very aggressive way. This is what I think Nadal needs to do!
Djokovic now has the stamina, mental strength and confidence to go all the way with Nadal. It will be interesting to see if he has the belief to beat Nadal even at the French Open. He certainly has the game for it!
Unfortunately, I was not able to chart this match but let’s have a quick look at the statistics that you can find on the ATP website. Novak had a lower percentage of first serves in (56% compared to Rafa?s 69%) and he also did not convert more break points than Rafa (41% converted for Novak and 50% for Rafa). So Novak did not win this match by serving much better than Rafa or by playing the big points better.
Looking at a few more statistics we can see that Djokovic won this match because he basically dominated it from the baseline! Djokovic won 69% of his first serve points as well as 52% of his second serve points. Nadal in comparison only won 55% of first serve points and 39% of second serve points. Second serve points won is a good measure of what happens once the ball is in play from the baseline and Djokovic was much stronger here.