Djokovic vs Nadal

Roland Garros Day 11: Links Roundup with Sharapova, Djokovic, Tsonga and more

Roland Garros Roundup takes you through the Slam’s hot stories of the day, both on and off the court.

Shot of the Day: Victoria Azarenka reached her first semifinal at Roland Garros by easily dispatching of Maria Kirilenko in the quarterfinals in just under two hours with a score of 7-6(3), 6-2.

Mats Wilander on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Annabel Croft sits down with Mats Wilander as the former world No. 1 analyzes and dissects Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s progression under Roger Rasheed. Mats dives into Tsonga’s more relaxed forehand, consistent backhand, and increased confidence and explosiveness on court.

Novak Djokovic confident but knows what lies ahead: In his press conference following his straight sets quarterfinal victory over German Tommy Haas, Novak Djokovic talked about the rarity and difficulty of facing players with one handed backhands, the slick and quick conditions of Suzanne Lenglen, how he feels about the current state of his game, and the challenge of playing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals.

“Now I have a big challenge in front of me. I’m ready for it.  I’m playing well. I know this is the biggest challenge for me at Roland Garros. No doubt about it.”

Maria Sharapova leaves the bagel store just in time: After an egregious, error-strewn opening frame which she lost 6-0 to Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova cleaned up her act to collect the final two sets 6-4 6-3. Sharapova’s victory sets up a blockbuster semifinal with Victoria Azarenka, with the winner likely facing Serena Williams in the finals on Saturday. Sports Illustrated reports that while “Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by Sharapova,” Maria still felt confident.

“I still felt like I was in the match. And I was,” Sharapova stated. This type of confidence and mental fortitude coming from Sharapova should surprise no one and is what may lead her to back to back Roland Garros titles.

Players on the receiving end of gamblers’ frustrations: After his opening round defeat at the hands of Frenchman Lucas Pouille, American Alex Kuznetsov, a slight favorite in the match, received, as Ben Rothenberg describes in his piece for Slate, “a tweet with an impolite rhetorical question.” Rothenberg goes on to describe how tennis players often bear the brunt of hateful and threatening messages on twitter following losses. These messages are often from gamblers because “in countries where online sports betting is rampant and legal, tennis is one of the most attractive sports to bet on.” Tim Smyczek talks about his experiences with gamblers over social media even citing incidents where he’s “gotten messages after Challenger doubles matches.”

Enjoy Svetlana Kuznetsova while you have the chance: I could try to put in to words what Svetlana Kuznetosva means to tennis fans, but it would it pale in comparison to how Lindsay Gibbs of The Changeover described the phenomenon that is Sveta. Here’s a taste of Lindsay’s take on Kuznetsova following her quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams:

“The truth is that the sky pattern on the clothes is fitting for the Russian–the sky is the limit for her, but she keeps that limit close to her …

She makes us all want to pull our hair out, but she also keeps us watching …

Because on days like today when the conclusion is foregone, when the ending seems inevitable, she reminds us that it’s not. She reminds us that there are players like her who can get under the skin of Serena Williams. She reminds us that there’s not just one right or one wrong way to do things. Occasionally the Sveta way works too.”

Rafael Nadal as focused as ever: Rafael Nadal has seven titles and a lone defeat at Roland Garros. Yet, David Cox of the New York Times designates Nadal’s practice etiquette as being “markedly different from any other player.”

“While Roger Federer likes to joke around, sometimes mimicking his partner’s service action, Nadal is deadly serious, his focus as unrelenting as he rehearses the drills he believes will make all the difference as he seeks his 12th career title in a grand slam event.”

Nadal’s amplified practice intensity should not be viewed as response or as an antidote to his lackluster form during the first week. Rather, it should be seen as Rafael Nadal being Rafael Nadal. He plays every point like it’s his last and treats every practice likewise.

Miles Maclagan to coach Laura Robson: As Simon Briggs of The Telegraph reports, “Laura Robson has a new coach in the familiar shape of Miles Maclagan, who worked with Andy Murray between 2007 and 2011.” Though Maclagan admits that he “needs to learn more about the women’s tour and Laura’s game” he knows “she has the mind for the big stadiums and for the big time which is exciting for a young player with a lot of firepower and the ability to take on the top players.”

Why Novak Djokovic Will Win Roland Garros

By Jane Voigt, owner of DownTheTee.com

May 2, 2013 — Novak Djokovic is on a mission this spring: to win Roland Garros. His victory is not assured, however it is highly likely. Here’s why.

He can overcome any obstacle, whether physical or mental, on any tennis court surface. In Paris, we see red. Red clay. Second, Djokovic’s game is pitch perfect for the optimal and desirable opponent — Rafael Nadal, The King of Clay.

In mid-April, Djokovic took a giant leap forward in his pursuit of his missing link for a career Grand Slam. He defeated Nadal at The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.

The number-one Djokovic is only the second man to defeat the Spaniard since 2003. Had Nadal won, history would have written of his unprecedented nine Masters accumulated at the beautifully situated country club.

The week prior to this, Djokovic clinched the tie for Serbia in the Davis Cup quarterfinals. And that’s where this prediction of French dominance begins.

During his match against Sam Querrery of the U. S., Djokovic took a nasty fall. The replay of his accident certainly convinced people of its intensity. Novak screamed and grabbed at his ankle. Fans went silent. The person Serbia counted on most looked doomed.

But Djokovic did not retire. He revived himself. The screams, ankle clutching, and limp to the sideline were merely reactions. He actually put aside his pain after a consultation with a medical team and a couple tablets of Ibuprofen. The need for his tennis skills was palpable, at least perhaps in his mind. He had to rise up and save his country’s and his own pride.

He threw himself into high gear and defeated Querrey by winning 6-1 6-0 in the last two sets. Some were incredulous. Was he faking that ankle sprain? Had the Djokovic of his pained past risen? No. All you had to do was review the video of the fall. That was the real deal.

Credible tennis journalists espoused the virtue of Nole’s grand feat.

Steve Tignor of Tennis Magazine wrote, “’And what else could anyone think on Sunday afternoon, as they watched him hobble his way through an ankle injury, and Sam Querrey, in four sets to clinch Serbia’s quarterfinal tie over the United States. This was one of Djokovic’s most impressive performances of 2013, and an exercise in resilience for team’s sake.'”

Tignor went on to say that Novak demonstrated ‘efficiency and focus’ while his movement was compromised, adding, “‘That’s what playing for country and teammates can do for you.'”

Twitter sang Djokovic praises, as if he was inspired by, perhaps, a spiritual essence deep within or at least a highly selective intuitive nature of how to handle baffling situations. Perhaps Djokovic’s elimination of wheat gluten from his diet, plus a few go rounds inside the high-elevation recovery egg vessel had created a guidance system that gave him that pinch of push no one else on tour possessed.

Impossible to prove. But millions of people witnessed that match.

He, too, was incredulous when speaking with reporters. He said he really didn’t know how it all happened, that he ‘took some Advil and they kicked in.’ Yet his performance went well beyond that simple explanation; and he knew it.

Ten days later, on the Monday, May 10, the first day of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament Djokovic finally announced he would play. He was entered, but people speculated he might withdraw because of his ankle. His team announced it wasn’t the best, but good enough. Monaco had become Novak’s adopted home town, like for so many other tennis players, and he wanted to play a home tournament.

The news was a mixture of speculation about Rafael Nadal’s record of having won eight consecutive titles and how he would try ‘my very best’ for the ninth plus Djokovic’s, or any number of other players, chances of knocking Rafa off his Monaco thrown.

Djokovic started the week slowly. Losing first sets, but advancing in three, until the semifinals where he took out Jarko Niemnen in straight sets.

The Serbian was primed as Nadal sailed through his half.

Rain delayed the final but did not discourage French fans and dignitaries. The sun cast its brilliance on Centre Court and tennis balls began to fly.

The first set from Djokovic was nothing less than perfect. He showed no signs of ankle strain. His concentration, shot selection, timing on the ball, movement and serve set a high bar. The stadium was alive. And Nadal looked intent on reversing course.

He didn’t. Djokovic wrested his first Masters from his adopted home. If he wins Cincinnati this summer, he will have won all nine Masters 1000 titles. No one else can say that.

During the awards presentation, Nadal thanked Novak for winning his favorite tournament and Novak thanked Nadal for letting him win it once. Their passion for victory and their sportsmanship superseded any impulse to disrespect either champion.

Djokovic had started the week as ‘likely’ and finished on top. His ankle improved throughout the week, and his confidence along with it. To have come through against Nadal proved a consistency with resilience.

He was physically impaired, yet capable of surpassing that which would have stopped many. Djokovic’s ankle, though, can’t be compared to Nadal’s left knee. This chronic problem took him away from the game for 7 months. In this final, Nadal’s weakness was not a result of knee pain either.

The rain at the start of the match dampened the court. As a result, the ball did not bounce as high as it would have had the clay been drier. Therefore Nadal’s primary offense — his top spin — was compromised. Novak walloped the ball within a comfortable range strike zone. There were too many unforced errors, too, from Nadal. These were partially due to Djokovic’s fine ball placement and Nadal’s technique, especially his under-spin groundstrokes.

To predict Novak Djokovic will win the French Open based on two tournament performances could be viewed as a thin argument, especially considering that Nadal has lost one match out of 53 in Paris. Yet Djokovic has been gunning for this title since 2006, saying along the way that Nadal is beatable.

In 2011, his chances were the greatest. He had a brilliant start to the year, accumulating a record of 43-0 coming Roland Garros. But Roger Federer pulled a fast one on the Serbian, defeating him in an instant classic in the semifinals. Federer raised his finger to the sky in a gesture of triumph and poignant reminder that he is the number one man to beat.

Djokovic reached his first Paris final in 2012. He was number one in the world, too, as Nadal attempted his seventh title. Over two rain-soaked days and four sets, Djokovic came up short. He had won the Australian Open but could not surpass the passion and skills of a determined Nadal. Novak ended up losing in the semifinals of Wimbledon to Federer, and losing to Andy Murray in the U. S. Open final.

It’s a lot to assume they will meet in the 2013 final. Djokovic will come in as the number one seed, but the rest is up in the air. Andy Murray could be seeded #2 or Roger Federer could capture that honor, depending on results from Madrid and Rome. Nadal, though, will certainly not be seeded two. Therefore the draw will set the stage, as it always does. If Nadal falls on the opposite side from Djokovic, odds are in Nadal’s favor that he will persevere to the final Sunday.

Which man has more at stake? Which is prepared the best?

Djokovic has more at stake because Nadal already has 7 titles and because Djokovic is ready to suffer for pride and country and history. Plus, he has proven over and over — remember the match in Melbourne against Stanislaus Wawrinka — that he is in charge of the rabbit in the hat.

Nadal’s record in Paris is Djokovic’s biggest obstacle. He will also have to bury Nadal’s ability to up his game consistently, year after year, in a city that has not embraced his grunts, style of play, and his certainly un-French-like crass on-court mannerisms.

With all the assumptions cast about the draw and the perfectly imperfect extraneous elements of the game lurking … this is Novak Djokovic’s finest and most opportune chance to seal his place alongside the six other men with career Grand Slams. His pride beckons the association. And his pride could be that sine-qua-non that sparks this champion to that lofty place.

Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She has previously written for Tennis.com, TennisServer.com, and the late, great Tennis Week publication. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.