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Djoker/Nadal – Epic Capper to 2011 US Open

If the Djokovic service return down match point at 3-5, 15-40 in the 5th set vs. Federer was the signature shot of the tournament, then yesterday’s Djoker/Nadal final was the signature match for this era’s style of accurate, heavy, bludgeoning groundstrokes. Some of the most amazing rallies in the history of the sport were on display in the final…but then, how could that be a surprise? We had the rare treat of the true number 1 and 2 players in the world, both among the game’s all time greats, playing in their physical prime (Nadal 25, Djokovic 24), with one of them in the midst of possibly the greatest season a pro has ever had. Additionally, great rallies usually contain spectacular scrambles that elicit befuddlement on the part of the viewer – “how the heck did he get that ball and then make such a nice shot off it?”. Well, in this match we had two of fastest, most explosive athletes the game has ever seen, both clearly among the top 5 all-time in defending the court. So all the ingredients were there, and the players did not disappoint. 

Some of the match facts that amazed: In his last two US Opens coming into the match, Nadal had been broken just 7 times – 5 times in 2010 (3 by Djoker in the final), and just 2 times in 2011. Yesterday, Djokovic broke him 12 times…12 times!!! McEnroe wondered aloud if he wasn’t the greatest returner of serve ever, mentioning Connors and Agassi as well. At one point CBS put up a stat counting rallies of 15 strokes or longer at 26…and these were not just 15 hits of ‘getting a nice rhythm’, many of these shots were sharp, penetrating strokes that would have ended rallies against lesser players. The 17 minute game early in the 2nd set was phenomenal, with the rally that ended it yet another stunning all-timer, though Nadal blew the volley at the end (maybe overhead?). And how about Djoker’s reaching, slap forehand that ended the 2nd set?! Shots like that aren’t supposed to be humanly possible…

The back/rib issue to start the 4th set was a great concern, as he was clearly struggling with movement and bending for a bit, but those pills and that massage seemed to relieve the pain enough for him to continue his great play, though clearly he was eager to end points earlier. The key was, he is a good enough shot-maker to make that adjustment, and ended up steamrolling in the 4th 6-1. 

So let’s recap this phenomenal season of Djokovic’s, and again ponder where he lies among the greats. He just became the 6th player in the Open Era (1968 – today) to win 3 of the 4 slams in the same year, joining Roger & Rafa, as well as Mats Wilander (1988), Jimmy Connors (1974), and Rod Laver (the slam in 1969). He is 64-2 on the year, having won more Masters Series events than anyone in history – 5 so far, with two more to be played – and is now 6-0 vs Nadal and 4-1 vs. Fed. He has won 10 tournaments, bringing his career total to 28, which places him at 24th on the all-time ATP (post 1973) list. Assuming he wins at least 7 titles between now and next year’s US Open, he will be 16th on the all-time list a year from now, just above Arthur Ashe, Michael Chang, and Wilander. Finally, his career winning percentage of 78.4 puts him at 8th on the all-time list (again, ATP), above #9 Sampras and #10 Becker, and behind Borg (1), Nadal (2), Connors (3), Lendl (4), McEnroe (5), Federer (6), and Laver (7).

Clearly, he’s one of the greats, and we are lucky to watch this greatness unfold. 

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