We've had a few days to reflect on the on the epic fight between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nada in the Australian Open final. Let's break it down a little further:
-- The level of play was average
If you forget the intense drama and determination, the level of tennis reached in this match was very far from the last US Open final. Nadal played very short all along the match, and Novak wasn't able to take advantage of it enough. At the end, the ratio of winners to unforced errors was 101 to 140.
-- Rafa didn't step up
If you compare his level during this final to the one he displayed against Tomas Berdych and Roger Federer earlier in the tournament, the gap is huge. Rafa was taken by the event because he certainly realized how important this match was for his season and career. He wasn't able to start this match with a good balance between aggressiveness and stress. The consequence was that he was defensive right from the start and played very far from his baseline. After three sets, he was spending four percent of his time inside the court, whereas it was 34 percent for Djokovic. He played short, a lot in the middle, and tried to protect himself more than to hurt his opponent. During the first three sets he wasn't moving well, like he was submerged by the pressure of the event. Then he was also too predictable, so it helped Djokovic be one shot ahead all the time.
Rafa should have stepped up into this match to win it, he shouldn't have avoided the backhand diagonal on his rival forehand, he should have turned more often around his backhand. The issue is that this tension he's going through pushed him to play shorter and gave him the feeling that he needed more time Instead, it led to him playing shorter and getting attacked.
-- It was still brave
His first serve saved him a lot during this final and he ended with 67 percent of first serve and he won the same amount of points on it. This excepted, the Majorcan didn't play particularly well. Without the courage and will that was out of this world, the final would have been over in four sets. Once more, Rafa showed amazing fighting abilities and such a heart. It has never been reached by any other player.
-- Next time
Rafa and Nole will face each other again this season. What should Rafa remember? He needs to dictate the play. Rafa will have to be able to do this to match the Serbian. He will also have to add more variety to his game which is now too predictable. He always plays in the same areas on the return, his backhand nearly always down the line to change the diagonal, his forehand too often crossed, his slice on serve too often on Novak's backhand. He will also have to improve his second serve.
To dictate the pace he needs to not be afraid to hit hard on his crossed backhand so he can turn around to his forehand. He has to hit more forehands down the line to try and hurt Djokovic rather than protect himself. And he needs to hope Novak Djokovic can't keep up the blistering play that has brought him four major titles in the past 13 months.