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Daily Bagel: Nadal’s diligence prevailed over Djokovic’s theatrics in final

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The Daily Bagel is your dose of the interesting reporting, writing and quipping from around the Internet.

• Video: In case you haven’t noticed, Rafael Nadal headbanged his way to the title.

• Peter Bodo’s take on Nadal’s win over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

The match-up between Djokovic and Nadal, aside from producing rallies that seem to belong in some perfect athletic parallel universe, is compelling. But not in the familiar ways. It isn’t a clash of radically different personalities (a la Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi), or about pitting a creative genius against an implacable, focused grinder who does fewer things, but all of them well (a la John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg).

The difference between Djokovic and Nadal seems to be a profound one, because it goes right to the issue of temperament. Djokovic, with his flair for the dramatic, lives on inspiration. Nadal, by contrast, may have the fierce mien and primitive zeal of the born competitor, but he’s also a model of diligence. During a match, Djokovic struts around like a thespian, making dramatic statements but occasionally stepping on his lines; Nadal, for all the vicious punch in his forehand, is like a kid collecting and counting his Halloween candy. Don’t for a moment think he doesn’t know exactly how many Kit-Kats he’s acquired.

• From where Brian Phillips was sitting, it was all about Nadal.

It’s not that Djokovic didn’t factor in the match. For a long stretch during the second and third sets, he had control of it; you could have watched him moving Rafa around the court and concluded that he’d weathered his opponent’s strongest blast in the first set and somehow, as he often does, spun the compass so that the wind was blowing from his side. But from the beginning, the match was about Nadal — whether he could be beaten at all, whether this post-break, post-injury Rafa was vulnerable on a slow hard court, or vulnerable anywhere except on grass.

From the crowd, the new Nadal-centric reality felt obvious, like one of the unacknowledged givens of the match. Most of the fans were cheering for Djokovic for most of the night, but — and this is a completely insupportable statement, but I had several drinks during the course of the evening, so you can trust my intuition here — there was an edgy logic behind the support. Djokovic-Nadal matches have a reputation for boiling over into five-set, five-hour classics; the crowd had come to see a classic Djokovic-Nadal match; with Rafa in Red Trajectory mode, the only way a classic Nadal-Djokovic match could happen was if Djokovic played insanely well. So they cheered for Djokovic, but it was really about Nadal.

• The ATP provides some numbers behind Nadal’s 13th major title.

• Always a must read: Jon Wertheim’s 50 parting thoughts from the U.S. Open.

• Louisa Thomas of Grantland with a great piece on the Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka rivalry.

• From The Wall Street Journal: Tennis has a data problem and IBM’s Slamtracker system isn’t the solution.

At the Grand Slam men’s matches this year for which IBM computers identified three keys for each players, nearly one-third of the time the loser of the match either achieved as many keys as the winner, or more.

That in itself doesn’t refute IBM’s claims to have identified important insights. Maybe tennis is so difficult to analyze that these keys do better than anyone else could without IBM’s reams of data and complex computer models. Only, it’s not. A much simpler approach, using just the sport’s most basic set of statistics and setting the same targets for each player in each match at a tournament, does at least as well as IBM at identifying performance benchmarks that separate winners from losers.

• Meanwhile, how does Djokovic do this????

Nadal’s celebration in GIFs.

• Rod Laver on Rod Lavers.

• Bonus video: A solid highlight reel in case you missed the men’s final:

• Non-tennis: FIFA president Sepp Blatter says awarding Qatar the World Cup may have been a mistake. Nice to see Mr. Blatter finally caught up with the rest of us.

  • Published On Sep 10, 2013
  • 8 comments
    Dean16
    Dean16

    Nole doesn't compete like he did in 2011. He just wilted when the 3rd set didn't go his way. Djoker has all the tools to compete with and beat Rafa except one major one...heart. Rafa just forgets and moves on. Nole's giving up like he did was an embarrassment.

    NinaCanet
    NinaCanet

    If you aren't heartbroken after seeing Nole at the end of this video then you're made of stone. Devastating loss, I hope he overcomes this and the other horrible losses soon.

    Ace2020
    Ace2020

    Brian Phillips piece is the most laughably biased "analysis" I have seen in a while. You only have to look at the stats to see it was on Novak's racket. He hit 46 winners and 53 unforced errors. Nadal didn't hit many winners at all, but also didn't hit many unforced errors. It depended on what Novak did. He was terrible in the first set, played amazing in the second and third, until he gifted the break back and the set to Nadal with unforced errors. Did Brian even watch the match? Ridiculous. 

    Also silly to try and imply the crowd could only be supporting Novak because they wanted a 5 setter. God forbid the crowd aren't all cheering Nadal! I expect objective journalism, not fanboying like that. 

    shelley
    shelley

    @NinaCanet I'm not heartbroken, not in the least, nor am I made of stone. The better player won...period.

    sarahsupreme
    sarahsupreme

    @Ace2020 You are precluding the possibility that Nadal did not leave some power/risk in reserve and used his 8/10 game to suffocate Djokovic and force him to go for broke.  This is why Novak has much more winners and unforced errors, which by themselves don't totally describe the texture of a match.  Were it necessary, Nadal could have played more high-risk tennis to match Djokovic, but his 8/10 game was enough to win the match.

    Also, the NY crowd has always favored Nadal over Djokovic, partially b/c it hasn't totally gotten over some of Djokovic's comportment earlier in his career.

    CdotPdotM
    CdotPdotM

    @Ace2020 So, yeah, Philips is pretty clearly over-enthusiastic about Nadal.  Stipulated.  But a couple of things: first, if you're looking for 'objective journalism', Grantland is not the site for you.  And I say this as someone who generally enjoys what they do.  Second, this match looked like almost every other Nadal/Djokovic match pre-2011 -- Nadal controls the dynamic of the match, Djokovic tries to red-line in response, it works for a set, set-and-a-half, and Nadal wins.  If you think that's "hav[ing] the match on your racket", fine.  But it's not a winning formula, and no one should know that better than Nole, because ditching that approach is *exactly* how he turned into a world-beater for 16 months.

    Third, yeah, Philips' attempt at crowd-psychology is pure BS (pure projection, really), and I think he's almost up-front about that fact.  There's nothing implausible about a guy who's been in the late stages so consistently at the USO being the crowd favorite.  But it also seemed to me that by the middle of the match, the crowd was rooting for insane tennis -- and that's exactly what they got, until Nole folded like a cheap card table in the 4th.

    Ace2020
    Ace2020

    @sarahsupreme @Ace2020 I'm sorry, but what you said is rubbish. 8/10 Nadal could not suffocate Djokovic. Djokovic hit so many unforced errors and gave it away. That has nothing to do with Nadal, hence it not being on his racket.

    We saw what happened when both players were in top form in 2011. Unless Djokovic plays bad, Nadal can do nothing. In fact, Djokovic was abysmal in the FO semi, about 3/10 for most of the match. Nadal was at maximum level, and Novak still would have won without the silly net point. Nadal fans like to pretend he controls matches, but he doesn't. Waiting for mistakes is just not an enjoyable type of play IMO.