I was in an airplane on Sunday, and had to wait to land – just until the wheels hit the tarmac – to find out the scoreline of the Nadal vs. Djokovic final in Rome. So forgive me this late, but still completely stunned reaction: WOWSERS! Taking out Rafael Nadal on clay, in back-to-back Masters finals? I thought we all vacationed in Rafaland this time of year, but apparently there’s been a coup. And fairly bloodless one at that, with a tame 6-4, 6-4 scoreline. To paraphrase a certain doting tennis mother. . .all hail the King of Noleville!
So. . .is this Aberration or Abomination? Catastrophe or the best thing since the invention of Novak Eyeglass Cleaning Cloths? As Djokovic continues to defy every realistic expectation of what a tennis player can accomplish in a few months’ time, I’ve been trying to get my bearings. Am I rooting for Nole to continue to astound with his sudden, brutal dominance over everyone who dares pick up a tennis racket? Or am I wishing and waiting for Rafa to stop messing around, and start dominating on clay again? Oh who am I kidding, I like these guys but my hopeless, helpless, Fed Fan self is still waiting for Roger’s “Who’s the Daddy?” moment. . .and waiting. . .and waiting
But as a tennis fan, it’s actually been a lot of fun watching the Nadal vs. Djokovic rivalry heat up without any danger of my heart being torn from my chest, stomped on a few times, and taped back in after every match they play. (I still get tremors whenever the ’08 Wimbledon final comes to mind.) These guys are playing amazing tennis, and how can a fairly impartial observer not enjoy the novelty of having some real suspense on the men’s side at Roland Garros this year?
The predictable part: Both Nadal and Djokovic are playing hot potato with the “favorite” tag. Here they are talking to the media after Rome, via Tennis.com:
“He’s playing the best right now,” No. 1 Nadal said (of Djokovic). “In the last few months he’s been at a different level. He’s doing amazing things. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. I’m the second in the race. My goal is to be there the next time.” (Okay, I’m not really seeing how Rafa’s avoiding the favorite tag in this quote, but let’s just go with Tennis.com on this one. . .)
Djokovic disagreed, even though he is undefeated in 2011. “Let’s get one thing straight— he’s still the king of clay,” Djokovic said (of Nadal). “He’s the best person ever on these courts. Winning twice in the last week is a great achievement and gives me confidence coming up to France but he has been so dominant over the years.”
So let’s answer this once and for all: