Rafa writes the Chapter 59 of the Djokovic-Nadal epic
Ghosts of last year's defeat against an eternal rival, in an empire Rafael Nadal calls his, instilled an unflinching determination in the Spaniard to prevent a repeat of the same, as he overcame Novak Djokovic – the defending champion – in a 4-hour-and-4-set-long epic battle under the night skies of the French capital.
Nadal's extra keen single-mindedness was visible from the word go, as the 13-time champion truly and totally blew the Serb away in the first set.
It felt like the match-up would be a short and straightforward affair as Nadal quickly took a 3-nil lead in the second. However, nothing is simple and straightforward when Djokovic is your opponent. The Serb changed his approach, geared up and went on the aggressive, and started unleashing thundering forehands with unbelievable consistency and accuracy. Having been 3-nil down, Djokovic won 6 out of the next 7 games to take the second set.
In last year's match, it was the third set, this time it was the second set where we saw an unfiltered display of clay-court tennis perfectionism from the two giants (or GOATs) of the game. They were finding the most intricate of the angles, chasing nearly unreachable balls, and hitting the most ridiculous of shots while constantly trying to chop and change their tactics in order to outplay and outthink the other. The sixth game of the set, which went on for nearly 19 minutes (yes, nineteen!), was the epitome of this cat-and-mousing from both ends.
Last year, Nadal couldn't recover from the colossal physical and mental clash that took place in the remarkable 98-minute third set. This time, however, he wasn't going to and didn't let that happen. As if having no memory of what transpired minutes ago, the Spaniard was rapid off the blocks in the third set as he won the first 8 points on the trot. He made it a point to up his intensity and increase the spin and velocity on his forehand. He comfortably bagged the third set 6-2.
Going into the fourth, it was Djokovic's turn to roar back, and roar back he did. Being in lead 5-3, he had the chance to take the match into the deciding set, but Nadal capitalised on the tension of the moment and shifted the momentum in his favour by playing a scintillating game and breaking Djokovic's serve. From there, the final result was almost foretold. Nadal took the set to the tiebreaker with no intentions of playing the fifth set, and he materialised his desire with a 7-4 win in the tiebreaker.
The 59th chapter of this era-defining, sport-defining epic rivalry was written with the Spaniard's pen, and the road to his 14th Roland-Garros title remains open. It has been two decades since these two players have been shattering our expectations and imaginations, and yet they continue to mesmerise us. They continue to spoil us.
Image: JC/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0