In Sunday's Monte Carlo Open final, for the first time in eight matches and 18 months, Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic. Does Rafa's victory mean his Djokovic problem is over? Or do this week's extenuating circumstances put a damper on Nadal win? Busted Racquet examines both sides.
Theory No. 1: A win is a win and Nadal will no longer find Djokovic to be unbeatable
It doesn't matter how a streak ends, so long as it does. Djokovic was playing with a heavy heart in Monte Carlo. He had a gutty comeback win on the day he learned of his grandfather's death. By the time he got to Sunday's final, Djokovic looked like he was going through the motions. But he still showed up and still got outplayed by Nadal, something that hasn't happened in a big-time match since the 2010 US Open final.
Nadal's block was mental, not physical. Look back at list of recent losses to Djokovic. In most of them, you can pick out one turning point that swung the balance of power. (Serving at 3-2, 30-15 in the fifth set in Melbourne, Nadal had an easy backhand winner that he pushed wide. Djokovic went to break and tie the match. In the US Open final, that 17-minute, eight-deuce game in the second set could have changed the trajectory of the entire match.) The difference between the two players was ever-so-slight.
So now that Nadal has a better attitude about the match, the slight edge that Djokovic had will disappear. Nadal will continue his dominance on clay, while Djokovic will be holding runner-up trophies through the grass-court season. With a full head of steam heading into Wimbledon and the Olympics, who knows, Nadal could regain No. 1 by the US Open.
Theory No. 2: Djokovic was playing on physical and mental fumes. The win is mostly meaningless.
Here's Novak after the match:
"I definitely don't want to take anything away from Rafa's win. He was a better player. But it's a fact that I just didn't have any emotional energy left in me. I've never been caught up in this kind of emotional situation before."
"I definitely want to take away from Rafa's win. He was a better player than me today but only because I'm drained. My grandfather died five days ago and I missed his funeral. You think this match is a harbinger of things to come? Please. Rafa's win today is like winning an exhibition. Just wait until Madrid."
The answer: Both players know it's theory No. 2.
Nadal isn't a rube. He knows that he played a wounded opponent on Sunday at an event he always wins. It was an aberration. (Not his victory, but the level of play of his opponent.) Rafa isn't naive enough to think that this match represents a shift in the dynamic of the rivalry. To do that, it's going to take a win in Madrid or Roland Garros, when Djokovic is at full physical and mental strength. Winning in Monte Carlo was nice, nothing more. For now, it gets an asterisk.