It wasn't an upset and it wasn't a surprise. Don't allow yourself to think that Rafael Nadal, after defeating Novak Djokovic in a Masters final (6-3, 6-1) at Monte Carlo today, is now undisputed "King of the Clay" again. Don't believe those who might say that Nadal will undoubtedly run through the French Open and claim his record seventh title there.
I don't think that Monte Carlo is a fair measurement of Nadal's ability to play well against Djokovic on clay. With the unfortunate tragic timing of Djokovic's grandfather's death, it was amazing that Djokovic made it into the finals at all. Djokovic is just as close to his family as Nadal is to his. When he learned of the news of Vladamir's passing on Thursday a few short hours before his match against Alexandr Dolgopolov, it undoubtedly shocked and deeply upset him. He dropped his first set against Dolgopolov, but rallied to eventually win in three sets.
Anyone who has ever lost a grandparent or any loved one knows the toll it takes on you. While you may be able to push the grief aside for a short period to do something very important, it will catch up with you eventually. That's what happened to Djokovic today. How else do you explain 25 unforced errors in today's match against Nadal that only went 16 games?
Nadal, for his part, did exactly what he needed to do today and during this entire tournament. Something seems to have changed for Nadal over the break before the Australian Open. He came out more fiery then when facing Djokovic (although he still lost), and it seems to be his new modus operandi when facing the Serbian now. He is highly aggressive and energetic and plays to win (even more so on clay). Against a hapless, drained Djokovic, he dominated. Don't count on that kind of easy result for the French Open.
Nadal must still use this victory as proof that his new strategy is working. He should use this to increase his confidence going into his most important Grand Slam tournament. Nadal needs just one more French Open title to surpass Bjorn Borg for career titles at Roland Garros, and he will be on a mission in May to do just that.
Djokovic, for his part, first needs to go properly grieve with his family. Once he's healed a bit he can look back at this Monte Carlo final as fuel for the future. I do not think for one second that Djokovic losing today means that he will have an uphill battle at the French Open against Nadal. If anything, I think Djokovic's French Open run will be as dominant and decisive as anything we've seen from Nadal. When they (hopefully) face each other for the French Open title, that will be the true test of each player's skill on clay right now. Another match for the ages awaits us.
Julie has been watching tennis her entire life. She enjoyed playing as a child, but doesn't have the speed or the knees to compete now as an adult. Her favorite players are Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
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- Novak Djokovic
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