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Incredible. Really. How on earth did Novak Djokovic pull this off? I’m not saying the win was a surprise – as they say, Nole now “owns” Rafa in finals on all surfaces – but it sure was surprising how he did it: 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5. The two had never played a fifth set against one another, and by the time they got around to it I felt that Rafa finally had Nole right where he wanted him: in a state of pain, exhaustion and regret for all those chances missed. Anyone who’s watched Rafa play his big matches, usually against Roger Federer, assumed this final was now on Nadal’s racquet.
Well, I guess it’s time to watch these matches from Nole’s point of view.
Here’s the thing that this match really showed me and I’m guessing a whole lot of tennis fans who are still living and cheering inside the Fedal paradigm: Novak’s in charge now. Which means instead of thinking about if he can pull off yet another “upset” over Nadal, it’s time to wonder how Rafa’s ever going to do to beat this guy. How is Rafa going to recover mentally from this, the most devastating battle of wills we’ve seen from these guys? What’s anybody going to do to beat this guy? How will anyone ever get to him? And to take a really long view, how the hell can the sport of tennis ever top what’s happened in the past decade? Roger the GOAT, Rafa the GOAT in waiting, and now Nole, at five majors and in shirt-rippingly dominant form (I loved that, Nole, way to set a new, gladiatorial tone, you know Rafa noticed), we could be looking at Nole the Golden Slam-pion.
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Yes, it’s a ways off and still a huge leap of the imagination, but IF (yes, it’s a medium-to-big if) Novak ends 2012 with eight majors and an olympic gold medal he suddenly becomes part of that GOAT conversation, especially if you follow the “how can the greatest of all time lose consistently to another guy in the big matches?” logic. I’m leaping ahead. Rocketing to the distant planet of Nolandia without a map. Just plain jumping to conclusions. I know this is crazy talk, but these are crazy times. And that was one crazy match. A bit like the 2008 Wimbledon final, it’s a match that you feel sets a new course and a new perspective. Nole’s perspective.
So, what does everyone thing about this match? Is it just another final to you, or do you agree that this one changes everything? Are the top four stronger than ever, or is it really just Nole’s game? I have so many mixed emotions from this stupendous two weeks of tennis: joy at watching Roger play so beautifully, pride at what Nole and Rafa showed to the world in the final, excitement for the new guys coming up and yes, some sadness – bittersweet – from watching what feels like the passing of the torch and the passing of an era. No doubt there are amazing things ahead.