Two things were established Sunday afternoon in Miami.
First, the greatest rivalry in tennis no longer involves Roger Federer.
More important, the greatest tennis player on earth is no longer Rafael Nadal.
The world No. 1 was dethroned by Novak Djokovic in a thrilling, three-set final at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami. The 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory was the 26th straight for Djokovic and his second championship victory over Nadal in as many weeks.
Whether it's "the mother of all hot streaks," as Jon Wertheim described, or a true changing of the guard will be determined in the coming months. For now, there's no doubt that Djokovic is playing the best tennis in the world. He's 24-0 to start the year, one win away from tying Ivan Lendl for the longest such streak since 1984.
Djokovic and Nadal played a captivating, but uneven, first two sets. To say things picked up in the third would be a woeful understatement.
The pair traded long rallies and scintillating winners in a brilliant decisive set that had no breaks of serve, but no easy holds either. With the sold-out Miami crowd in a frenzy, the players reacted in kind. Nadal capped one of his service games with a wild fist pump at the net while Djokovic later raised his arms in triumph after coming down from 0-30 on his serve. Even Nadal's Uncle Toni got in on the action, rising to his feet to applaud his nephew on numerous occasions in the final set. (Djokovic's parents, of course, did the same, but that's to be expected.)
What was most impressive about Djokovic on Sunday wasn't his play, but his mental fitness. On a hot day in Miami, it was Nadal who appeared to be more tired. Djokovic's early career was beset by whispers that he couldn't handle the mental or physical rigors of long matches played in heat. He shouldn't be hearing those knocks any more.
Given their proximity in age (Nadal is 11 months older) and that they're both arguably in their prime, Djokovic and Nadal are the new "it" rivalry in tennis. For the past five years it's been Federer-Nadal. Now it's Rafa-Nole.
- Novak Djokovic
- Rafael Nadal