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No excuses for Novak Djokovic after French Open defeat: ‘Rafa played a perfect match’

hannahwilks in French Open 04 Nov 2020
Rafael Nadal celebrates winning his 13th French Open title (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

Novak Djokovic credited ‘phenomenal’ Rafael Nadal after one-sided defeat in the French Open final.

The 2020 French Open men’s singles final, which many expected to be a lengthy, four- or five-set affair, turned out to be one of Rafael Nadal’s most dominant victories over one of his biggest rivals.

Nadal claimed a thirteenth French Open title with a 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Novak Djokovic which was so one-sided that many wondered whether Djokovic was physically compromised in some way.

But Djokovic denied the possibility, pointing to what he called a ‘phenomenal’ performance by Nadal.

‘I was fine. Everything was okay. I was ready for this match. It’s just that I was overplayed. I mean, I was beaten by a guy who was just perfect today,’ he said.

In the first two sets, Nadal hit 21 winners and just six unforced errors while breaking Djokovic five times.

Djokovic did serve very poorly, landing just 42% of first serves in the first set and winning only three of 11 points played behind his first serve. But the greatest returner in tennis couldn’t break Nadal for two and a half sets and only created three break point opportunities in the first two sets.

Nadal with the trophy (Aurelien Morissard / IP3)

It was a command performance by Nadal, the greatest male player that the French Open has ever known. Many games went to deuce at least once, but it was always Nadal who came up with the sensational winner down the line, or the perfect riposte to the Djokovic drop shot (a tactic which had been working for the world no. 1 throughout the tournament, but which yielded few dividends today against the foot-speed and feathery-light touch of Nadal).

The match only become truly competitive towards the end, when Djokovic responded to being broken at 3-3 by immediately breaking back. The Serbian player, who had been noticeably calm and subdued through the match up until that point, suddenly let loose with a roar of pure emotion, gesturing the crowd to get on their feet and support him.

This more fired-up Djokovic kept the set on serve for a few games, saving break point to do so at 4-5. He had 0-15 on Nadal’s serve in the next game, but Nadal reeled off four straight points to level, then broke Djokovic to love in the next game when Djokovic’s second serve shaded long. Nadal served the match out to love, sealing victory with an ace.

A gracious Djokovic speaks at the trophy ceremony (Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports/Sipa USA)

The last match the two had played in a Grand Slam final had seen Djokovic comprehensively outplay Nadal for a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory at the Australian Open in 2019, but this was a complete turning of the tables, as Djokovic acknowledged.

During the trophy ceremony, he joked that Nadal had ‘shown why [he] was King of Clay – I have experienced it on my own skin.’

Speaking to the media, he said:

‘Certainly I could have played better, especially in the first two sets. But he did surprise me with the way he was playing, the quality of tennis he was producing, the level. I mean, he’s phenomenal. He played a perfect match, especially in the first two sets.’

Nadal’s 100th match win at Roland Garros also saw him tie Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam title record of 20, the pair of them leaving Djokovic some distance behind with 17.

Federer was quick to congratulate Nadal on social media:

 

 

But immediately after the match, Nadal was keen to emphasize that for him this victory was not about the records.

‘To win here means everything to me,’ he told post-match interviewer Fabrice Santoro through a branded mask on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

‘Is not the moment – honestly, not for me I don’t think today about the twentieth or [about] equal[ling] Roger on this great number, for me today is just a Roland Garros victory, no?

‘Roland Garros means everything for me.’

Nadal also found time for a heartfelt message to the world at large about dealing with the current health crisis, and was keen to put his achievement in winning a thirteenth French Open title in context.

‘I played at my highest level when I needed to play at my highest level, so […] I am very proud. The personal satisfaction is big because under the circumstances that we played this Roland Garros.’

Nadal also floated the possibility of ending his season after the victory and not playing the Nitto ATP Finals in November, saying that he would make a decision over the next few days after consulting with his team.