Men’s Semi-finals

Sep 12, 2010

Yesterday we were treated to two very different men’s semi-final matches. First, Rafael Nadal made short work of Russian Mikhail Youzhny with a 6-2 6-3 6-4 win. In three hours and 44 minutes, Nadal knew his opponent: Serbian Novak Djokovic had upset Roger Federer and tossed him from the tournament, denying him his seventh consecutive appearance in the tournament’s finals.

Whereas Nadal’s match was relatively plain-sailing bar a couple of dodgy serves, Djokovic was not the clear winner until the very end of the match. The scoreline swung up and down; Federer took the first set 5-7, but lost the next 6-1. Djokovic lost the third, again 5-7, but it was in the fifth that he found his nerve to take Federer to the barest of margins and win. Djokovic hadn’t played a game like that in years; no wonder he name-checks this match as one of the best in his career. He even staved off two match points; no easy feat against a man like Federer.

Federer was simply below par and out of sorts; but it would be unfair to Djokovic to put that down as his reason for winning. Federer could have easily snatched victory at the last minute, but Novak kept him at bay and had the grit to capitalise on his own match points.

So now we have our US Open 2010 line up: Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic. Some may mourn yet another non-Federer/Rafa final, but tennis thrives on its imagination and as fun as it is to see two legendary rivals go head to head, I can guarantee this final will be an entertaining one.

As I write this, bets will be being placed around the globe, and I imagine many will go to Rafa. But, here comes the catch. This is Rafael Nadal’s first time in the US Open final. Rafa has been at pretty much every final at ever Grand Slam in the history of tennis apart from this one (maybe a little bit of exaggeration there), and has always had the tendency to stall a little at the US Open. Most people are surprised to even see him still standing; surely pounding around with those knackered knees on solid concrete would take its toll? Not so far it seems. But it is a general rule that Nadal features only in a second-character capacity at the US Open. Novak Djokovic, on the other hand, has been in this tournament’s final before, back in 2007 where he was runner-up to Roger Federer. Nole does well at this tournament, and like the other hard-court Grand Slam in Australia, he performs well in these arenas. His sole Grand Slam title was acquired on a surface like the one at Flushing Meadows (Australian Open in 2008). So Novak will know what it feels like to play in this arena at a final event; he will know how hot the lights get, how close the crowd feels, how the atmosphere squeezes the very oxygen out of the air.

Will this affect Rafa? Who knows. On the one hand you may scoff at my suggestion that it could be a factor, and believe that it doesn’t matter that Nadal hasn’t been in this final before. After all, he has been in plenty of finals at other Grand Slams, more than Djokovic in fact, and he’s been in so many of them that surely this one won’t throw up any surprises. And you may point to the fact that players are perfectly capable of winning Grand Slams in tournaments where they have never appeared in the finals before. Juan Martin del Potro last year, for example. You would be right in those assumptions and I would be inclined to agree that it isn’t exactly going to win or lose the match for these men.

However, I would not cast it aside completely. One of Novak Djokovic’s biggest obstacles to Grand Slam titles is mentality; he struggles to get into the headspace that he needs to succeed. Look at the unflappability of Roger, the fiery passion of Nadal and Murray: Djokovic tends to simply get frustrated and withdrawn. So with his physicality at a peak, one of the biggest factors Djokovic needs to improve upon today is his mentality. Having played in this tournament’s final before and having experienced this exact position before could be the key to unlocking that mentality he needs to win.

Still, this is all simple speculation, and I think I have proved my speculation can be wildly off the mark, particularly when I get overly excited about these kinds of delectable finals. We simply need to sit back and see. Both men are going after two very different but equally important goals; Rafa wants the career grand slam, and Nole wants his elusive second grand slam title.

This certainly won’t be a boring match, and I can say that without a hint of guess-work or speculation.

- Sophie G

Written by: SophieG

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