As dedicated a fan as I am (evidently!), I couldn’t help regret that decision. Rafa’s victory against Novak in Monte Carlo, despite being his first after six consecutive defeats did not really seem like a reason to rejoice. It left me disappointed. In the wake of his grandfather’s passing away, Novak, who until that day seemed to be handling it pretty well, played a level of tennis unbecoming of his stature.
His mind was not in the game, he made too many unforced errors, served badly, seemed distracted and essentially gift- wrapped the match and gave it to Rafa on a platter. Rafa didn’t play bad; he was his usual self. But the victory didn’t feel like a victory.
The final in Rome today was an altogether different story though. THIS, was the retribution that all Rafa fans have been anxiously waiting for. THIS, felt like a long- overdue victory, truly deserved and mouth- wateringly delicious. Rafa was at his best! His court coverage was as always, impeccable. His first serve percentage was reasonable and he made few unforced errors. Most importantly, he was in control of the points for the most part, got to almost every ball that came his way and kept forcing Novak to play that extra shot. Not only was he confident, he seemed to have that extra spring in his step, that only proved how much he was enjoying this!
Novak, on the other hand, had an uncharacteristically bad day- too many misses, bad serves, bad decisions (remember the overhead smash that he missed badly and that he didn’t have to hit in the first place because the ball was going to land wide off the sideline?). But this time, he wasn’t low on morale, he was simply struggling and one could see that Rafa was making him slog. Also, I think, in general, Novak is an incredibly lucky guy (not to take away from his hardwork and talent). Not today though. Consequently perhaps, he got frustrated with himself towards the end, and in my opinion, gave up long before the match got over. Again, uncharacteristic. Wonder if all is well in Djokerland!
Eventually though, Rafa got a well-deserved victory that’s going to do wonders to his morale. Since he conveniently brushed off the Madrid fiasco as irrelevant to his clay court season because in his own words, “its not even clay”, his victory record on clay this year going into the French Open is 100%. Seeing him crush Novak’s spirit the way he did today, I cannot help rejoice that the clay- court maestro is back! No mental blocks, no Novakphobia, not anymore. Rafa is back in business!