COMMENTARY | Unfamiliar currents are shifting the foundations of men's tennis as we march toward the next Slam in Paris.
Prior to the start of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, was there anyone in the world who thought Rafael Nadal wouldn't be holding the trophy after the final? Apparently, there was at least one person -- Novak Djokovic.
That would be the same Novak Djokovic who actually went out and pried the trophy from Nadal's grasp by defeating him 6-2, 7-6 (7-1) in the final. And this time it was the Serb's injury making headlines throughout the tournament, having entered play with a bum ankle.
Rafa losing in a final on clay? Novak making headlines because of injury?
It's enough to think the men's tour must have made a quick stopover in Twin Peaks during its recent swing through the Americas.
Suddenly, everything isn't as it previously seemed to be.
In just over a month, we've seen Rafael Nadal claim an important hard-court title at Indian Wells on Novak Djokovic's preferred surface. Then, only a short time later, we observed Novak Djokovic defeat the King of Clay on what had effectively become his home court.
Events such as this have given the men's side of the game a much more unbalanced and almost eerie feeling.
It makes one wonder what other surprises might be lurking around the corner. Maybe Andy Murray has a much better shot at winning the French Open than many have previously given him credit?
The image of Andy Murray holding the Coupe des Mousquetaires this summer might end all speculation about Twin Peaks. There would no longer be any doubt we have crossed into a new dimension.
Although the old axiom "anything's possible" can't be fully discounted, it still seems hard to think Nadal and Djokovic won't be the last two standing in Paris. With a freshly minted Monte Carlo trophy in his home in the Principality of Monaco, the needle also seems to have moved slightly in Djokovic's favor.
In this new uncertain world, there is one component of the upcoming drama that feels fairly well-defined. That is the fact that conditions on court will be an integral factor in deciding which of the 2013 Monte Carlo finalists ultimately claims the French Open title.
The last two matches played by Nadal and Djokovic on clay have involved some fairly extreme playing conditions. And while a sample of two is certainly not an exhaustive data set, their recent matches on the surface do indicate a theme.
Anyone who watched the 2012 French Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal knows that the weather played a huge role in the outcome of the match. Under a hot sun and relatively dry playing conditions, Nadal took a commanding lead against Djoker through the first two sets.
However, after rainy conditions settled over the court of play, it was an altogether different affair. The weight of the saturated tennis balls seemed to negate Nadal's potent spin, which in turn stopped the balls from bouncing out of Djokovic's comfort zone.
These conditions appeared to greatly favor Djokovic's more flat style of striking ground strokes, and the Serb consequently stormed right back in the match. When play was finally suspended for the day due to rain, Djokovic had won the third set and possessed a 2-1 lead in the fourth. It looked, at that time, like Nadal was in real trouble.
When the match resumed, this time under a clear sky and upon a dry court, Nadal quickly closed out the match by taking that fourth set.
Fast forward to the 2013 Monte Carlo final between Djokovic and Nadal, and a similar pattern is observed. Prior to the start of the match there were rain showers in Monte Carlo, and Nadal quickly found himself down in the first set, which he then lost. As the courts dried out and heated up, conditions normalized and Nadal was able to play a much more competitive second set.
Rafa was up 4-2 in that set but, ultimately, didn't have enough to overcome Novak. There's no telling what might have happened in a best-of-five format, especially if the court had continued to bake under the hot sun.
Credit Djokovic for battling through a tough ankle injury and pulling out an improbable victory against the King of Clay at a tournament the Spaniard has continuously dominated.
That said, the most important analysts in Paris this year may not be by those typically seen on sports channels. This year, fans might be better served simply following detailed weather reports throughout the two-week event in Paris.
If the final is characterized by rainy conditions, my money is on Djokovic. On the contrary, if weather conditions are forecast to be sunny and dry, I'm picking Nadal.
Mother Nature has intervened in the past to alter the course of sports history. Though possibly never before to this degree of predictability.
Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. He is a frequent contributor at the Bleacher Report.
- Sports & Recreation
- Novak Djokovic
- Rafael Nadal