Patrick Mouratoglou

How Djokovic dominated Nadal

Patrick Mouratoglou

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In Miami we were lucky to witness a great final which will surely be replicated one day in a Grand Slam finale. Nadal versus Djokovic - the two fittest players on the ATP Tour and both with a great fighting spirit and mental toughness.

If the Serbian's victory over the Spaniard at Indian Wells was surprising to many - even to Rafa - the one in Miami possessed a very different taste as the world number two controlled the points.

This is a true revolution: if we cannot yet talk about a changing of the guard, the Spaniard will have to closely analyse those two defeats and formulate a gameplan to fight back against Nole.

He was simply better in all areas and dominated the tactical side of this final: Nadal is used to settling in the diagonal, turning around his backhand in order to get back on his forehand, but Nole found a way to strike at Nadal's backhand with a lot of topspin.

This put Nadal out of his comfort zone even when he was able to turn around his backhand - because when his forehand is taken above the shoulder, he cannot properly hurt his opponent. When, stuck on his backhand, he was forced to play shorter, he was punished by that much-improved Djokovic forehand.

Having been dominated, Nadal then tried the other diagonal, playing his backhand pretty high on that of his opponent in order to force Djokovic back on his forehand. But each time he played too short while using this strategy, Novak took the ball very early and hit hard on Rafa's forehand - Nadal then played even shorter or missed.

When the Spaniard finally reached a good depth, Djoko was able to come back on to Rafa's backhand and force him to play short once again - allowing Nole to attack him with his forehand.

Court position
The Serbian remained very close to his baseline throughout the match, refusing to move back and so always ready to step in and take advantage of any opportunity. Rafa was too far behind his baseline and therefore unable to hurt his opponent, being unable to take advantage of any short balls.

Technical flaws
Rafa's serve worked pretty well in Miami and often got him out of danger - confirming how much he has improved that shot, as we saw at the US Open - but he also displayed some technical flaws. His relative weakness on his backhand was obvious against Djokovic, who put him under a tremendous pressure on that side. He looked fragile and unwilling to play on it.
At the same time, his best shot, the forehand, wasn't efficient enough: ever since he changed the motion, he has not maximised performance on it - especially when hitting it above the shoulder. He's playing too much in the middle, has lost his amazing inside-out cross-court forehand and cannot find the angles as easily as before.

Confidence as a weapon
Mentally, Rafa is a monster. He believes in himself and always fights from the first to the last point. If his opponent gives him one small chance, you can count on Rafa to take it. Other players are fascinated by him and fear him in equal measure; against Djokovic, this balance of power is reversed. The Serbian has such momentum that he feels invincible: when he was down 5-4 then 6-5 in the decisive set and had to serve to remain in the match, this stayed with him and helped his shot selection.

Physically dominated
I was not impressed by the Spaniard's physical ability - Nole seems a lot fitter, with Nadal often overpowered and finishing the match totally out of breath. This is unusual.

Nadal's big heart
Nadal could have lost much more heavily, if Djokovic had not made a mess of his start to the match - he was 5-1 down before coming back to 5-4 - and not committed so many enforced errors on key points. Nadal fought until the final-set tie-break, which could have turned his way, and this is to be applauded.

The future
I have no doubt that those two losses in a row have hit Nadal hard, setting off an alarm in his head: he's going to work even harder to regain the title 'Boss of the Baseline'. His fitness will become less of an issue while his confidence will certainly rise again with the claycourt season coming: the great memories on this surface will feed his ambitions. But two unknown factors remain: how will he cope mentally with the change in the balance of power to Djokovic? And what solutions can he find to solve this 'Serbian issue'?

What is clear is that he cannot allow himself to lose to Nole on clay - if he gives up his domination on this surface, it would signal a handover of absolute power. We could be set for some memorable battles between the pair in the coming months and years.

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