Novak Djokovic extended his perfect start to 2011 claiming the Miami Open by defeating World number one Rafael Nadal for the second time in two weeks. The second ranked Serb came through 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4) to
bring his unbeaten streak to 26 and claim his fourth tournament of the year.
Consistency was the story of the tournament for both players, Nadal had dropped serve only once over the two weeks and Djokovic had saved all 13 break points he faced. The final was to be a different story with Nadal breaking Djokovic on his second service game in a match strewn with errors. And though it was by no means a classic final, it was a match worthy of first versus second with both players fighting for every point.
The top two set their stalls out early on, the fourth game saw Nadal save two breaks points before holding in a gruelling nine minute game.
Early on the Florida wind was a factor with blustery conditions making for some erratic play. Fittingly for a man with such a primal physique, Nadal mastered the elements quickly and took the first set 6-4, breaking Djokovic twice. Djokovic was no spectator though, holding his service at 5-3 with a mixture of power and intelligent shot selection he went on to break Nadal before conceding the set. Nadal’s serve has improved somewhat since he lost to Djokovic in the final at Indian Wells but was still a weakness for the top seed, three double faults in the first set allowed the Serb to find his feet. As with Indian Wells, Nadal took
the first set but allowed Djokovic to grow into the match. He came out swinging in the second set, throwing himself around the court to recover every shot he could. The solidity of Nadal’s game, which disposed Roger Federer in the semi-finals 6-3 6-2, was lacking here and it was Djokovic’s turn to impose himself on the match. He fought hard to go 3-0 and never lost control of the set, seeing it out 6-3.
The momentum was now very much with Djokovic, he made Nadal battle for almost 20 minutes to hold in the first game of the third, expertly outwitting the Spaniard on two occasions. The protracted first game
seemed to invigorate both players and the third set was played with fervour. Although it was never tidy, both players showed glimpses of why they are ranked above all others in the sport. The set continued on serve, and as the tension built the quality dropped. Both amassed errors and when the tie-break was over it was Nadal’s sloppiness as much as Djokovic’s consistency that had made the difference.
Despite the lacklustre end to the tournament we can all look forward to the unfolding rivalry between the top two over the coming year. It looks like it may be a lean year for those beneath them in the rankings, Federer is entering the twilight of his career and was dispatched handily by Nadal in the semi-finals here. Robin Soderling may have the best chance of any but his form at the French Open must hold for a third successive championship, and it looks as if Andy Murray’s temperament will continue to delay his progress towards a
Grand Slam title. The Scot has yet to shake the hangover of losing the Australian Open final, he has exited the three tournaments since in succession at the first hurdle, twice to qualifiers.
With the season now moving to the clay courts, it is hard to see Djokovic’s run continuing much longer on the most volatile surface. But this year the Serb has displayed the fitness, technique and intelligence to go toe-to-toe with any one on the tour and if his success continues into the summer he could well be ranked number one by the end of the year.
Saturday’s women’s final in Miami was a marked contrast to the men’s. Eight placed Victoria Azarenka brushed aside 13th Maria Sharapova 6-1 6-4 with little drama. Former number one Sharapova found herself 6-1
4-0 down before she found her range, it was credit to the Belarusian’s well executed game plan that Sharapova was on the back foot for so much of the match. The story of the tournament was Andrea Petkovic who overcame top seed Caroline Wozniacki and Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters before falling to Sharapova in the semi-finals. The Aussie Open quarter-finalist is proving to be one to watch this year.