Today I watched the match between Nadal vs. Djokovic at the finals of the Stella Artois Championship. I had no choice – it was the only match covered live by the Tennis Channel. Federer had also made it to the finals of the Gerry Weber Open, a grass tournament that he has won four times straight and in which he was once again the defending champion. But I saw nothing of that match.
Instead, the focus was on the Stella Artois Finals between the Australian Open champion (Novak Djokovic) and the French Open champion (Rafael Nadal). There was no mention of the fact that Federer has won Wimbledon five times and was preparing for his sixth. Honestly, it was like Federer who?
Djokovic held serve in the opening game and then broke Nadal to go up 2-0. He held serve again to go up 3-0. At which point, the commentators announced that Federer had just won the first set against Kohlschreiber in Germany. They promised to keep us posted on that match. But there was no cutaway to show us Federer’s performance. We were not even provided the score. Priority clearly lay with the match between Nadal and Djokovic.
Djokovic gets break points to go up 4-0 but fails to convert. His team of supporters start to seem a bit depressed. I can think of no other team – other than perhaps Yuri Sharapov – who seems as emotionally invested in their player. Nadal holds serve, and then breaks Djokovic. And just like that we are back on serve. The Djokovic team look like they could use some Zoloft.
The commentators observe that bookies have favored Djokovic to win. This seems hard to believe. Djokovic holds serve at love to go up 4-3. Maybe the bookies are right, I think. Djokovic continues to challenge the Nadal serve. At 30-30, Djokovic throws a return into the net and smacks his racket down on the grass in frustration. There is no charge of racket abuse. In fact, neither he nor Nadal are ever charged with time delays throughout this match, even though they both flagrantly violate time restrictions. It is almost as if the powers-that-be have decided to leave these two gladiators alone to settle their score. It is a replay of the French Open semi-final. At stake once again is the Number 2 slot. But this time they are playing on grass and Djokovic is favored to win. Except that clearly no one remembered to tell Nadal.
A cute ball girl of African descent follows Nadal around with his towel. They really need to stop using ball kids at these tournaments, I think. The game has become too dangerous. I would not risk my child with these two gladiators attacking each other on court.
The score is 5-all, on serve. One of the commentators remarks that Roddick had observed that Nadal’s serve has improved. Andy should know - he lost in straight sets to Nadal in the semi-finals. The commentator is in agreement. He observes that Nadal’s serve used to be just a way to start the point. Now it has become a weapon.
The score is 6-all. We are facing a first set tiebreak. The tiebreak follows the same pattern as the set. At first Djokovic surges ahead, then Nadal equalizes. Djokovic is serving over 80%. It makes no difference. He screams in frustration as he misses a backhand. It is 5-all in the tiebreak. Djokovic goes up 6-5. He has set point on his serve. Next thing you know, he has fallen flat on his face. The score is 6-all. Time to change ends.
One of the commentators announces that Roger Federer has won his match, defeating Kohlschreiber. The announcement has the feel of an afterthought. It is not important. What matters is that Nadal has gone up 7-6 after crushing a Djokovic second serve. He serves to the Djokovic forehand and closes out the first set. During the commercial break, the Tennis Channel states that Federer has 50 straight wins on grass. They also announce that one of the Bodarenko sisters has won her first singles match, which has the effect of trivializing Federer’s achievement.
Second set. Nadal goes up 2-0. He takes an injury time-out to treat his hand for blisters. They are some ugly-looking blisters. The commentators share that Nadal has come straight from Roland Garros and is looking forward to going fishing in his few days off before Wimbledon. I wonder how he is going to hold the fishing line with those bruised hands. There is no mention of how Federer will be spending his days off.
Back on serve. 2-2. 3-3. 4-4. Djokovic breaks at love to go up 5-4 and serves for the second set. He gets broken. Nadal goes up 6-5, and breaks Djokovic to win. The final point can only be described as spectacular. The crowd is on its feet in excitement. It’s hard to imagine Federer producing anything like this against Kohlschreiber. The tournament Director chats up Nadal. As the camera cuts away, one can hear someone announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, 30 years of Artois championships and we have never had a better final”. It is probably true.
In his closing comments, Djokovic points out that he has only been playing on grass for three years. As if that has anything to do with his loss today. Nadal sounds polished as he thanks the sponsors. He has mastered the art of winning, I think. He is starting to sound like a Number 1 player. And not just on clay.