If the ATP tour came with GPS, a “recalculating” message would sound right now. Novak Djokovic reached a crossroads where results and rankings intersect and downshifted into declarative finishes, speeding past the world’s top two in succession to stake his own claim as the best player on the planet.
Rallying from a one-set deficit today, Djokovic ravaged Rafael Nadal’s serve to spark a six-game, mid-match winning streak and roll past the world No. 1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, to capture the Indian Wells title for the second time. When Nadal spun a loopy forehand into net down match point, Djokovic punched the air with both fists and erupted in a primal scream.
It is the sixth Masters Series shield for Djokovic, who reached a personal milestone: this is the first time he has fought back from a set down to defeat Nadal, and it marks the first time in six career final clashes with Rafa that he’s won.
The year of the Djoker continues.
Djokovic’s three-set win over Roger Federer in Saturday’s semifinals propelled him past the Swiss stylist for the second spot when the new rankings are released tomorrow. Reconfiguring the rankings as if pursuing a personal mission, Djokovic stretched his winning streak to 20 matches (dating back to last year’s Davis Cup final) in collecting his third tournament title of the season and raised his 2011 record to 18-0. Regardless of what the rankings show, the Serbian showman is second to none this season.
This rematch of last year’s U.S. Open final offered sustained stretches of superlative shotmaking and some periods of patchy play, as both men exhibited nerves. Ulitmately, Nadal's serve let him down in wilting beneath Djokovic's return. Nadal served only 42 percent (first serves) for the match, including an abysmal 25 percent in the second set.
Watching these two careen corner to corner—sneakers squealing, grunts growing louder—and exhibit such elastic body control while driving dipping darts into obscure areas of the court took tennis to exhilarating places. It was reasonable to expect that this pulsating first-set pace would enact a physical price as the match progressed, but neither man was challenged on serve through the early stages of the second set.
But later, a nervous Nadal splattered a forehand wide of the sideline and Djokovic earned the break and a 4-2 second-set lead. Consolidating was another question. Djokovic spun a double-fault that strayed behind the service line and he had booted away the break while simultaneously kicking the truant tennis ball in disgust.
The next game, Nadal fought off two break points, but was left slapping his leg with his racquet as he committed his third error of the game, surrendering serve to fall behind 3-5. Empowered, Djokovic drove a forehand winner off the baseline for two set points, but closing proved problematic as the Serb blew five of them. On the sixth, Nadal leaned into a cross-court backhand but missed the mark wide, and Djokovic was level at a set apiece.
When Nadal slapped a smash into net and curled a down-the-line forehand wide, Djokovic had his third straight break for a 1-0 lead in the decider. Nadal had dropped serve only three times in the tournament before this match. Djokovic would convert five of eight break points overall. The final time came in the fourth game of the final set. Stabbing away at the Nadal backhand as if were a swollen scab, Djokovic bled another backhand error to break for the fourth consecutive time for a 3-0 third-set lead, and never looked back in continuing to alter the balance of power at the top.