Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-3 in Monday’s final in Rome. Rafa now holds a record 21 masters titles. The win also guarantees that he’ll be seeded above Roger Federer at Roland Garros and won’t have to face Nole until the finals.
The win was big for Rafa in many ways, including the nice thick line it put under his win over Nole in Monte Carlo earlier this spring. Though his losses to Novak in last year’s Madrid and Rome finals won’t be completely forgotten, there’s nothing like a shiny new trophy to help heal past wounds:
Q: Psychologically was this an important victory today?
NADAL: Winning is important and this for everyone when you lose you play with doubts and this is a tennis match and an important thing for me I will have this trophy in my bedroom. It is a dream and the confidence I am playing well and this comes when I play at the right level and hopefully I will keep playing like this.
(Forgive the bad transcript, but you get the point.)
So Rafa’s back to his Rafa self on the red stuff. The question remains if Nole can return to his best form. Or is this his best form and Rafa’s just playing well? Uh, “No”, would be Nole’s reply to that last question, judging from his comments in the press conference:
“I made unforced errors and I don’t think he played extremely well – I made a lot of errors which should not happen when you play against Nadal. I will go to Paris with confidence and I played a great week.”
Novak was testy in the press conference and even testier on court, flubbing overheads, squandering break points and destroying his stick in frustration after a bad call led to a mini mental meltdown. Nole’s suffered mental anguish throughout this clay court season – the death of his grandfather first and foremost, the “mistake” (Rafa’s term for the blue clay) in Madrid and now this frustration in the Rome final. That’s why it’s hard to say where Novak’s game is at these days. Perhaps a revival of spirit will come finally for him at Roland Garros, where the promise of a “Nole Slam” is on the table. He’s not scared to say he wants it (via Yahoo!):
“I cannot say that thought (of winning four Majors in a row) is not present. It’s there. I am going and preparing for a Grand Slam as I prepare for any other big event, with more focus. It’s two weeks long and the most important tournament and we always want to deliver out best game. I feel good on the court and I need to make a few adjustments before Paris, but I’ll be in top form.”
One thing you can never underestimate is the force of Novak’s ambition. I’m sure Rafa doesn’t. Nadal may have the Roman trophy on his bedside table but that doesn’t mean he’s sleeping soundly. (Roger, in the meantime, is reading bed time stories.)