By Maud Watson
Having already won the title seven consecutive times, an eighth Monte Carlo crown for Nadal would have seemed more of a given than a breakthrough. As he ended a seven-match skid against rival Djokovic, however, his victory took on added importance. Nadal played flawless tennis all week, served better than he has in recent memory, and perhaps best of all (and not surprisingly), we saw no evidence of knee problems during his play. Suffice it to say, Nadal is firing on all his legendary clay court cylinders, and it will take something special to derail him on the dirt. But the extent of his breakthrough against Djokovic is difficult to measure and dependent on a couple of factors. First and foremost is how much belief Nadal takes from the victory. He justifiably should be proud of last week’s performance, but he also knows his opponent was playing well below the level that had earned him seven straight victories over the Spaniard. The second factor is Djokovic himself. Djokovic was bleeding errors, and he was unable to apply any pressure on Nadal due to his inability to keep the match even remotely tight that day. Had Djokovic been closer to his own top level, it would have been interesting to see if Nadal’s aggressive tactics would have paid dividends so consistently, as well as if he would have stuck by them rather than reverting back to his comfort zone of merely grinding it out. Just as people tend to put an asterisk by Nadal’s 2009 Roland Garros loss, the same logic could easily apply to last weekend. In short, it was a phenomenal week and achievement by Nadal with his eight consecutive tournament titles at a top tier event – a feat unlikely to be matched in our lifetime or ever. But for my money, Nadal is going to have to clip Djokovic again – with the Serb playing at his own top level – to truly cement a breakthrough.
Presumably to honor his recently deceased hero and grandfather, Vladimir, who taught him to “always fight,” Djokovic opted to play out Monte Carlo rather than withdraw. Throughout the tournament, he produced subpar play that saw him squeak by Dolgopolov and narrowly escape Berdych in the semis. He wasn’t as fortunate against Nadal in the final, and that loss is a consequence he’ll have to live with based on his decision to continue playing the event. But how bad is that consequence really? If anything, it may prove a positive in the long run. His final press conference reminded me much of Federer’s frankness when dissecting a match. He recognized his vanquisher’s superior play but also noted what anyone who watched the match already knew – his heart wasn’t in it, and his play suffered as a result. He knows he can easily mentally write this one off. And who knows? If the two meet again this clay court season, especially if they square off in the Roland Garros final, having his win streak snapped earlier may take some of the pressure off of the Serb’s shoulders.
Cruel Twist of Fate
It’s hard not to feel just a bit sorry for Andrea Petkovic. She had hoped to finally get her 2012 campaign off the ground in her German homeland, but fate was cruel. After a straight-set defeat of countrywoman Kristina Barrois, she had the unenviable task of facing No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. After losing the first set, she battled back in the second to level things at four-all in what was turning out to be a very entertaining contest. Unfortunately for Petko, who has had to overcome back and knee injuries this season, an upset was not in the cards. While dashing for a forehand, her right shoe stuck in the dirt, and she badly rolled her ankle. If anyone can overcome this added setback, it’s someone as positive as Petkovic. Hopefully she recovers quickly, as the WTA would greatly benefit from her return.
Change Comes to SW19
Wimbledon may be steeped in tradition, but it’s also clearly no stranger to modifications with some positive changes are on tap for 2012. A welcomed adjustment is not only the increase in prize money, but how that increase will be dispersed. This year’s qualifier and early round losers will be reaping a 13% increase in prize money, as officials have opted to skew a larger portion of the prize money increase their way (and props to the ATP’s “Big Four” for lobbying for this change). Another positive modification is the decision to bump the start time up by a half an hour on courts 2-19. With that unpredictable English weather, the earlier start time will hopefully curtail the number of matches that get pushed into a second day. And while it’s not set in stone, there are more than a few murmurs that a roof for Court 1 could come to fruition in the future. It’s probably safe to say that SW19 won’t be putting out fires the way officials in New York were last summer.
New Day, New Game
Known as the Legg Mason Tennis Classic since 1994, the hard court event in Washington D.C. will henceforth be known as the CitiOpen. But a new sponsor is only half the story. In keeping with the current trend, Washington D.C. will now be a dual event, simultaneously playing host to a lower-tier WTA tournament alongside the ATP 500 event. There’s more tennis to love, and perhaps with a little luck, the event will grow in stature similar to the way that the Cincy event blossomed into top-tier events for both tours. It’s apt to make the lead-up to the final major of the year more exciting.