Sweet Revenge in London
November 22, 2010 -- It was a perfect day for some good old-fashioned revenge at the ATP Championships.
Rafael Nadal and Andy Roddick hadn't stood across the net from each other since the Sony Ericsson Open. And, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych met today for the first time since their semifinal match at Wimbledon.
With his semifinal win over Nadal in Miami, Roddick went on to take that prestigious Masters 1000 title and become the hottest player on tour this spring. Djokovic's loss to Berdych at The All England Club left the Serb with yet another major disappointment, quite literally.
But since then Berdych accumulated the disappointing record of 8-12 while Djokovic ramped up to an impressive record of 26-6. Following Miami, Nadal revved up his engines to sweep the European clay court season, win his fifth Roland Garros crown, his second Wimbledon, and his very first U. S. Open.
No one can deny that Rafael Nadal should be celebrated as simply the best tour player of the year.
Djokovic was expected to put an end to Berdych's run at Wimbledon. The slender pretty-playing Czech had had a good spring, but floundered at majors. At some point, then, Djokovic would derail him.
But Novak's push through the draw at Wimbledon wasn't smooth. His first round opponent, Olivier Rochus from Belgium, should have been an easy win. It wasn't and honestly that type of match just doesn't exist these days. Rochus was scrappy and threw every sort of stroke and strategy at Djokovic.
At the start of the fifth set both were poised to close the match. But Djokovic showed fans why he has remained in the top three for four years. And Rochus faltered from fatigue and the overwhelming reality that he didn't have the guns to mow down Novak.
Djokovic admitted that Rochus was tricky to play on grass, in his post-match press conference. However, he also revealed how he got through the match and into the second round.
"As soon as I was starting to play aggressive and well, I was winning in the match," Djokovic began. "Especially in the fourth and fifth sets. I showed the real game, the game that I should play. I was happy in the end I managed to find the real game."
Djokovic, who was seeded #3 at Wimbledon, defeated his next two opponents in straight sets. He took what he learned in round one and ran with it. Two-time Wimbledon Champion Lleyton Hewitt showed spunk in the quarterfinals. The two men have similar styles. They can both change the direction of the ball well, and can be as steady as a ship on a calm sea. Djokovic survived in four, but errors and lack of concentration were evident.
You've seen the hangdog look from Djokovic many times. The Wimbledon semifinal was a big day for that from him. Berdych was happy as a clam to have finally met expectations from about anyone in the sport. He wasn't about to let this opportunity slip by, especially since he'd just beaten Mr. Wimbledon -- Roger Federer -- in the quarterfinals, his second win over Federer for the year.
The tiebreak in the second set proved to be Djokovic's undoing. He had the lead, but wasn't consistently aggressive. With a big serve and forehand like Berdych's staring at him across the net, along with the grass surface, Novak couldn't afford to let off the gas, but he did. Berdych, not Djokovic, went on to the final to meet Nadal and defeat. Djokovic could have ended up with the runner's up trophy, too. He'll never know. The only real experience he took away from that loss was the missed opportunity.
There was some joy when Djokovic defeated Berdych in the Davis Cup semifinals this fall. However on a stage like the O2 Arena and during the ATP Championships, which carries some serious ranking points, Djokovic's victory today added an extra dollop of sweetness.
Djokovic thumped Berdych under the bright lights 63 63. No contest. Djokovic was determined and Berdych's nerves were raw on his debut at The Barclay's ATP World Tour Finals. Tomas set up winning shots perfectly, or what looked like them, then sailed them long or wide. A couple of these were so monstrously out, they resembled club-level shots. Not very pretty for the Czech.
Andy Roddick was on a tear as 2010 got underway. He won Brisbane, the first Tour stop, lost in the quarterfinals at The Australian Open, made it to the finals in San Jose losing to Fernando Verdasco, and lost to an inspired Ivan Ljubicic in the finals at Indian Wells.
Roddick looked at home in Miami. His work with Coach Larry Stefanki was paying off. Roddick had changed. He'd matured. The press mentioned the transformation, wondering if Andy could put words to it, but he couldn't and admitted as much through his funny flair for self-deprecation.
Against Nadal in Miami, Roddick took risks beginning in the second set. He had to after losing the first. He came in on his second serves, which Andy characterized as "like driving into head-on traffic." He held his fear close and forged forward with a strategy that left Nadal in a defensive posture. Roddick's serve and volley tactic controlled Rafa, and Roddick won in three.
"My comfort zone of moving the ball around and maybe chipping it around a little bit doesn't work against Rafa," Roddick said after beating Nadal. "I had to try to come up with something that at least took him out of his comfort zone a little bit, and it paid off."
Today, Roddick took charge of their match, immediately breaking Nadal in his first service game, holding onto it dearly and winning the first set 63.
Nadal hadn't played since Shanghai and the five-week hiatus revealed a little rust. Roddick told the world he would come out aggressively. He did just that. The second set he served and volleyed, exchanging lengthy rallies with the Spaniard. He scattered his shots, blanking Nadal's side of the court. He took valuable timing away from Nadal.
Had Roddick taken the tiebreak in the second set, of course, the match would've been his. Fans knew it was probably his only chance to win the match. Let Rafa back in and he'd pull out the victory, his first-ever at the O2 Arena. And that's the way history will remember it.
Rafa converted a crucial break point in the third and rode out the win. The monkey was off his back.
"I won the first match and that's more than a good day," Nadal said on court, immediately after Roddick had bid adieu to fans and Give Me Shelter by The Rolling Stones blasted over the massive speaker system.