Novak Djokovic has destroyed Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3, in the Sony Open final in Miami. The win not only reduced Djokovic’s head to head deficit to 18-22 , but, more crucially, it will also have increased his confidence as the two go into the Clay Court season. That is Nadal’s favorite part of the season, and if Djokovic is to catch him up at the top of the ATP rankings, he needs to outplay Nadal a couple of times on the clay.
Djokovic could not have played better in winning his 18th ATP 1000 title. The now four time Sony Open Champion had a first serve percentage of 73, won 83 percent of those first serves, and hit 22 winners to 14 unforced errors. He also won 6 of 8 points at the net.
The win accomplishes many ambitions for Djokovic. First, it moves him further up the ATP Rankings. Djokovic lost in the 4th round last year and gains 910 points with the win. Though Nadal also earned points, 600 of them, those extra 310 points won by Djokovic could play a huge part in separating the two if the year end race for No. 1 gets as close as it did last year. As of now, Nadal leads the ATP rankings with 13,730 points. Djokovic is at No. 2 with 11,810.
The win will also separate the two mentally. Since losing to Nadal in last year’s US Open final, Djokovic has won titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Paris, the WTF in London, Indian Wells and now Miami. Three of those titles are ATP 1000s while one of them is the World Tour finals. Meanwhile, Nadal has won only two tournaments, two ATP 500s in Doha and Rio.
Djokovic will move into the clay court season knowing he could not have done much more in his best part of the season, the fall indoors to Spring North American hard-court stretch. While he did not win the Australian Open, he did go far, making the quarters, and there is no doubt that his failure there motivated him to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double for the second time in his career.
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, has the majority of his ranking points to defend in the upcoming clay court season and North American hard court swing. Last season he won Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros, Montreal, Cincinnati, and the US Open. Two Majors and Four Masters 1000. On the other hand, Djokovic has few points to defend. Though he won Monte Carlo, he made early exits in his other events. For Nadal, defending all his points is a hard task ahead. And with his chief rival being in such excellent form, his chances of keeping his position as world No. 1 just got a lot tougher for one big reason: the mental factor.
The Nadal-Djokovic rivalry, like all rivalries, is more mental than physical. For a long time, up until Indian Wells 2011, Nadal had the upper-hand, leading 16-7 . However, in 2011, Djokovic ironed out the flaws in his game, namely his fitness and serve, and went on a run from 2011-2012 which led him to four Slams and the No. 1 ranking. During that run, he beat Nadal in seven consecutive finals, from Indian Wells 2011 all the way to the 2012 Australian Open. Two of those wins came on clay. Djokovic beat Nadal in straights in both the Rome and Madrid finals, an achievement that had many predicting him to win the French Open.
Djokovic did not win in Paris, going out to Federer in the last four. But this year he says, the French is a priority. Dethroning Nadal there will take some doing, but Djokovic did manage to beat Nadal in last season’s Monte Carlo final, ending Nadal’s eight year reign at the event. With Djokovic’s game in top gear, and with Nadal going through something of a crisis this season, Djokovic’s ambitions to complete the career slam with a Roland Garros title are looking as good as his game did today in the Sony Open final.
Commentary by Christian Deverille