The bare fact of the matter is that Novak Djokovic lost the semifinal of Rome Masters 7-6 6-3. Rafael Nadal won the titanic tussle four minutes shy of two hours and reduced the deficit head-to-head record which now stands 26-25 in favour of the Serb. This was the 51st meeting of their historic rivalry, and if the previous 50 were anything to go by, this could potentially be the turning point in Novak Djokovic’s ill-fated campaign.
Djokovic had been searching for his best tennis ever since his return in January following a debilitating elbow injury, but his performance here in which he invested a lifetime of energy to push Nadal to the limit was highly satisfying. Nadal has been decimating opponents on the red dirt ever since his return in Monte Carlo. And despite that blip against Dominic Thiem in Madrid, this was the closest that Nadal had to exercise a high level of high octane tennis to see off his opponent. The Spaniard utilized his monstrous forehand to test Djokovic’s movement and his decisive cross court backhand which is often an underrated shot in his locker stretched every inch of Djokovic’s limbs.
An opening set full of drama and pulsating points took 71 minutes to decide it. Nadal led by a break until the tenth game when he was broken while serving for the set and Djokovic forced a tiebreak to decide matters. at 3-3 in the ensuing tiebreak, Djokovic was visibly livid when he lost the point albeit while playing against the wind. Nadal eventually prevailed and Djokovic was left to reflect on what might have been.
The second set was slightly less competitive as Nadal began to take control from the baseline in long rallies which forced Djokovic to overhit. The top seed broke to love in the third game and he was soon racing to another final in the italian capital where he has triumohed seven times. The Majorcan though had to hold serve for a 5-3 lead in a 10-minute service game and broke Djokovic in the subsequent game finishing off his second matchpoint with forehand down the line winner.
Djokovic with this defeat, will fall to no.22 in the world when the rankings are updated on Monday after failing to defend his points from reaching last year’s final. This is the lowest that Djokovic will be ranked since october 2006, but his performances in Rome where he played better than what his ranking suggests points to a bright future.
Djokovic himself acknowledged this was definitely his best tennis since he returned to the tour by saying, “Rafa was just better in important moments. He just managed to play [the] right shots and he deserved to win. He was the better player. I don’t think that there was too much of a difference, which is great for me, great news for me. Because Rafa is, of course, the best player ever to play tennis on clay courts. And he’s in great, great form. It’s very difficult to play him on clay anywhere. But as I said, I thought the level of my tennis was very high.”
”All in all, really, really good quality match,” he continued. “I enjoyed it. I hope the crowd did, too. And I can only take positives from this week.”