Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-2 3-6 6-4 6-1 in the US Open men’s singles final after 3 hours and 21 minutes of hard work, and Pat Cash asked Nadal how he overcame the Serb in a match which saw the momentum swing away from Nadal in the middle.
Nadal came into the contest in brilliant form as he was yet to lose on hard courts this year and had dropped just one set throughout the tournament. Astoundingly, he also held every service game until the semi-finals when he was finally broken by Richard Gasquet.
Djokovic, on the other hand, came back from 2-1 down as he beat Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka in a gruelling five-set match and had previously dropped a set in the quarter-final.
Nadal took the first set at a comfortable 6-2, but one could sense that Djokovic hadn’t yet found his rhythm as he made an uncharacteristic amount of unforced errors. However, the Serb’s strokes became more accurate and he took the second set 6-3 and then broke Nadal’s serve for the third time in succession to take a 2-0 lead in the 3rd set.
The momentum was firmly in Djokovic’s favour, but as quickly as he had found form in the second set, it deserted him in the third. Nadal broke back to level the match, but Djokovic forced himself into a 0-40 lead on Nadal’s serve at 4-4 to give him 3 break points. Nadal rallied and Djokovic squandered the break points with more unforced errors and he struggled to find his length as he consistently dropped shots shorter than usual and allowed Nadal to create angles and run him ragged. Djokovic was then broken in the next game as Nadal took the set 6-4 and gained a 2-1 lead in the match.
Nadal is on top of his game and is rightly ranked number 1 in the world following his US Open victory, and it seemed as though there was more to his comeback than Djokovic’s lapse.
So what happened? How did Nadal shift the momentum in his favour? Pat Cash asked the man himself:
“What happened in the second set? You seemed to drop the ball too short but then you seemed to hit harder in the 3rd set, is this what you were trying to do?” asked Pat Cash.
Nadal responded: “I was too far at the back and his power when he has angles frightens me. He played very good I cannot beat him like this so I came up closer”
Now, one shouldn’t be surprised at Nadal’s tactical knowledge of the game, but it’s almost unheard of for Nadal to admit that he was frightened. What he is saying is that he came closer to the baseline; and by hitting the ball earlier and deeper, he gave Djokovic less space and time than he had been allowed in the 2nd set when Nadal stood back and played from behind the baseline and Djokovic dominated.
Nadal’s aggression turned the tables again as Djokovic made 53 errors in the final, more than twice as many as Nadal.