So, we’ve just witnessed one of the most amazing tennis matches in history, at that there is little doubt. For Djokovic to win a five set epic, having played a tight five set epic in the semis only two days before (remember Rafa had an extra day rest and a slightly less taxing semi) was a superhuman effort. Again he repelled the challenge of a relentless competitor who came back at him after Novak had had the upper hand.
It was also the longest grand slam final in the open era, at 5hrs 53 min. However, statistics may, in this case, be as close to damn lies as can be! I don’t want to appear negative, amidst what was one of the finest matches of all time but it is worth noting that here are two players that take the 25 second rule between points to the limit – and beyond. Often Novak is at the baseline to start his serve routine inside the 25 seconds, he then goes through a routine that often includes 15 or more bounces of the ball. Rafa is not much different.
These routines are important in helping players manage their energy and focus for the next point but here are two players who take longer than anyone. So it would be interesting to know how long the ball was actually in play, compared to some of the other classic finals. However, I don’t want to seem churlish in the aftermath of what was an amazing match.
So, everyone is saying it – Andy Murray took Djokovic to the edge. There will be a few things he will learn from Lendl and, as Ivan says, he’s still trying to get better. And Rafa says he can be number 1 – but won’t be if any of the other three muskateers have their way! Clearly, this is an amazing period in men’s tennis – Murray’s up therewith the other three – in terms of performance if not slams.
Fed might be nearing hanging up his racket but when he turns it on no there is still no one with the same sublime ability. The problem he has is being able to perform at the level to beat the other three over a best of five match. Given the performance of the others and that he’s now in his 31st year his slam total is unlikely to get any higher.
Rafa and Novak may torture their bodies but the difference between them and Andy at the moment is that they sense the key moments and prioritise. we saw it with Rafa at the end of last year – he may not yet have a tour finals title to his name but the Davis cup final was more important – plus despite having Fed’s number now on any surface outdoors, he’s not yet beaten him in a competitive match indoors.
The good thing for Andy is that Lendl took time to win his first slam, he got to French Open final in 81 where he lost to Borg, aged just 21, he was runner up three more times over the next three years before finally winning the French in 84, coming from two sets down against McEnroe. Sound familiar?
Well, an accomplished performance from Azarenka, with no middle set wobble this time. She kept focused and concentrated on getting the ball deep and taking time from Sharapova. Given it was her first grand slam and the no 1 ranking was at stake she showed phenomenal mental strength, focusing on the performance all the way through, not even a wobble as she closed it out!
Well, I got it wrong but so did Mats Wilander. Form over the last week or so meant Fed was the favourite going in to todays match. Rafa has a few things in his favour – while he sincerely seems to believe Fed is one of, of not the greatest in history, he always feels he can win – Fed undoubtedly over the last few years believes himself inferior to Rafa – what strange dynamics on court.
Rafa also will continue probing looking for a way to win, even when Fed comes out like an express train as he did today. He also is the master manipulator of tempo and energy – something that seems to particularly get to Fed, where it doesn’t to Novak (perhaps because he takes even longer between points than Rafa!). Most matches between these guys comedown to one or two key moments and it’s these where Rafa is outstanding – understanding as well as anyone both when they occur, how to handle them and, on occasion how to disrupt his opponent.
There’s a lesson for us also, in how we handle the interactions we have with others, whether competing on the court, or in business.
As the big four line up we saw Novak finally tested – he almost seemed down and out in the second set facing the brutal test of a never say die Ferrer. As the commentators observed during the match, not that long ago, faced with a niggling problem and that kind of opponent, he would have easily been distracted – there’ve been a few times we’ve seen Novak pitch up at a press conference after a match and blame an injury.
Today, like a true champion, he dug in and found that little bit extra at the key moment – from under threat in the second set tie break he never looked back, running away with the third.
Friday’s going to be an interesting day – will Andy be able to step up – and step in?
So, as we reach the business end of the Aussie Open – the big four will face up in the semis.
Fedex remains the only one yet to drop a set and his progress has been the serene Fed of old. Here’s a player, despite his advancing years that continues to learn – despite those around him upping the standard he continues to find a way to compete – maybe playing his best tennis ever.
Tomorrow’s semi with Rafa will be interesting – will he be able to manage his own energy while manipulating Fed’s tempo to the effect that in the past has resulted in him being his nemesis, or will Fed maintain the serene flow that saw him blaze past Rafa at the O2. There Rafa seemed to have half a mind on the Davis Cup final, as well as end of season fatigue.