After seven consecutive losses in finals to the same rival, world number two Rafael Nadal soundly defeated top ranked, Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 6-1 in the 2012 final of Monte Carlo. In no uncertain terms, Nadal was dominant.
Unquestionably, Djokovic was under an emotional burden after the death of his grandfather to whom he was very close. He learned of the death shortly prior to his semifinal win over Alexandr Dolgopolov.
It was immediately apparent that Djokovic was grief-impaired. During the match, clear preoccupation was evident at times when his over-13-month aura of confidence was displaced by a rapt, disheartened posture. Only the innate ability that true champions possess enabled him to push through the grief to reach the finals.
But even had Djokovic not been under emotional duress, and I’m certain that many will take issue with this, I do not think he would have beaten Nadal today.
In another forum, I’ve stated emphatically that Nadal is not just a “brute force” player. Rather, he is a highly introspective, coachable champion who happens to play a very physical game.
Nadal has continually made the necessary adjustments to his game to achieve what only six other men in the history of tennis have done: win the career grand slam. I’ve alluded to these facts in previous posts as well.
It can and will be argued that after seven consecutive losses to Djokovic in finals, even had Djokovic been grief-free, it was simply time for the law of averages to grant Nadal victory.
Not the case. Nadal’s mental resilience and ability to make adjustments is what earned him his eighth consecutive Monte Carlo victory.
It wasn’t a grief laden Djokovic, luck, or the law of averages.
It was Rafa.
There were two distinct forces at work during Djokovic’s mastery of Nadal in their previous seven meetings in finals. One of those forces enabled the other so that the two worked in synergy to create a single dominant dynamism.
After Djokovic had a personal epiphany in which doubt concerning his abilities was purged, he became a “born again believer.” That belief so thoroughly boosted his confidence that he became the match dictator instead of the dictatee.
He played well inside the baseline, taking every ball early, or at the very least, at it’s apex, which continually kept Nadal pressed five to ten feet behind his baseline. It was the most impressive imposition of will onto an opponent, for an extended period of months, at the highest level of tennis, that I’ve ever seen.
As that dynamic unfolded, I was perplexed as to why it continued to happen. Surely Nadal, Uncle Tony and the entire Nadal camp recognized what was going on.
I can only surmise that it took Nadal this long to alter his natural inclination towards defense and become more offense-oriented against Djokovic. This modified approach was glaringly apparent in today’s Monte Carlo final.
Given this monkey is now off his back, and the convincing manner in which he dislodged the thing, I suspect that we will be seeing an increasingly aggressive Nadal.
It would be foolish to think that the metamorphosis is complete and absolute. I think it is still a work in progress.
Adapting a new play dynamic that is counterintuitive is difficult to say the least. For some, it seems impossible.
For Nadal its not.