Miami: Djokovic d. Nadal
For the second consecutive Masters final (in a two-week span, no less), Novak Djokovic came back from a set down to beat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal. He did so in a third-set tiebreaker this time, with the final score showing 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4). For all the match minutiae, head to the match chat replay. But in honor of the world No. 2's second superb scalp, I offer two takeaways from this result:
1. Bring on the clay.
Djokovic and Nadal have a long history on the soft stuff, and although the Serb is 0-11 against the dirt devil, they played an unforgettable 2009 Madrid semifinal, a four-hour match that Nadal won in a third-set tiebreaker. But there could be a new apex down the road, based on what we've seen from Djokovic in 2011. His confidence cannot be higher than it is now—and his game looks pretty darn good, too. Good enough to get through the early hard-court portion of the year undefeated (24-0) and with four titles under his belt.
Nadal has maintained a monopoly on clay since 2005, with no one even a close second. Djokovic isn't going to go unbeaten on clay, but if he can beat Nadal in a big final—and that's the only round they'd be meeting in—it would add yet another layer to their emerging rivalry and his incredible season.
2. If the Federer-Nadal semi didn't convince you that Nadal and Djokovic are the two best players in the game, this match should have.
Not much separated these two today—I felt that way coming in, and all throughout the match. After his win, Djokovic, speaking shirtless to Mary Joe Fernandez, said that, "Till the last stroke, I didn't know how it was going to turn out." You weren't the only one.
Even when one player appeared to hold an edge over the other in form (Nadal in set one, Djokovic in set two), there was never enough of a gap to decree that the other man was done for. The tiebreak befitted the close contest, and Nadal gave Djokovic a scare when he wiped away half of his match points. Four was too many to overcome, though, as a perfectly-placed Djokovic forehand wrapped up this classic.
Miami and Indian Wells are often compared because of their similar structure and timing, and their men's finals this year were almost mirror images: Nadal took an early lead, but Djokovic clawed his way back. This time, however, it wasn't because of Nadal's own undoing. Though he had trouble holding on many occasions, Nadal got a lot of free points with his serves. So did Djokovic—return-of-serve experts must have hated watching this unfold. Everyone else probably enjoyed it.
In the end, as it should with two baseline titans, it came down to the rallies, and Djokovic seemed to win the majority of the longer exchanges. He did so with punishing forehands and backhands, but also volleyed with confidence and defended in his usually breathtaking way. I could say the same thing about Nadal. But there could be just one winner between tennis' top two men.