Joker def. Rafa 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5
June 11, 2012 | 08:01 PM
Rafa def. Joker 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 (match time: just under 4 hours on two days)
Losing just 3 points in 4 service games today and breaking Joker on both his chances in 5 service games, Rafa seized a record RG title #7 with his hardest serving since his 2010 Open championship (high today of 129 mph). While sometimes forced on to the defense by the Serb's aggressive forehands, Rafa took control of points quickly on his own serve with such success that Joker built no momentum. Reaching 30 all only once at 5-5 after a missed line call benefitted him, Joker went for a winning forehand but missed wide. Rafa closed the game out with a hard, forcing first FH up the middle.
After being broken in the opening game when Rafa's defensive backhand caught the top of the net and allowed the Spaniard to score with a BH passing shot cross court (the same shot that had won him the break to end the 2nd set), Joker's was under pressure all day. The final service game was a nervous affair for both men. The Serb spun first serves in play on the first 3 points, gaining no advantage. After exchanging unforced errors on the first of two short points, they exchanged 4 timid balls that didn't reach the service line in the air; when Joker found himself at the net, it took him 2 overheads to finish what would be his last point:
- At 30-15, Joker went for too much off a penetrating return by Rafa and erred long
- at 30-30, Joker missed his 1st serve and was immediately chasing hard forehands out of the corners before Rafa put the 3rd one away
- at 30-4 - the first match point - Joker served aggressively, missing the 1st one out wide, and double faulting the match away with a 2nd ball up the middle (his only DF of the set, his 4th of the match).
Though nature had almost intervened again in the 4th set, slowing the balls down and causing a brief suspension of play before Joker served at 4-5, when the sun came out a game later it shone on the favorite, who didn't let the opportunity pass.
Except for the final game, from the time Rafa came up the stairs to enter the court today until he took the mike to address the crowd in his rehearsed Catalan-acented French, he never looked nervous or played timidly.
As for Joker, he played with purpose today as he had yesterday in the 3rd set when down 2 sets and trailing 2-0. He went out swinging and sat dry-eyed and stoic after his defeat. He acknowledged his opponent's superior play and his own disappointment, but placed it in context of his success in reaching his first Paris final and having the opportunity he had. If he feels it was the missed chance of a life time, he wasn't making that public.
As for Rafa, he also left the door open to the future, pleased with how he's played in the past year; when asked, he replied that his home will always have room for more trophies from his the tournament which is 'most special to him'.
There was no talk of a rivalry on the air, and whereas Rafa had always seemed to relish the chance to play Roger in a major final, his reply to the how he felt about facing Joker in this final was that he wished it had been someone easier.
Roger and Joker share the experience of being humbled on clay by a #2 Rafa, and the 7 time champ lost the only time when he came in to Roland Garros as the #1 seed (in 2009). But whereas Rafa always professed esteem for Roger and claimed to value the chance to be on the court with 'the greatest player', he seems to fear Joker as more a peer and see playing him as a not entirely welcome challenge to his own position. From a tennis point of view, it's easy to see why: Joker's play is harder for him to control than Roger's. Rafa also has less respect for Joker as a person, which may have something to do with his attitude toward playing him. Or it may just be that being #2 to someone who hasn't won more than you've won isn't as comfortable as trailing Roger was.
The overall quality of play today was higher than yesterday. Though each player played very well at times in the first 3 sets - they both deserved to be in the final - the quality of this match was lower than it had been in their previous three major finals. This was primarily because of Joker's streaky play. When he played well, the quality of their exchanges went up in the first 3 sets, as Rafa extended the points even when he lost them. When Rafa played well, the points were shorter.
Rafa can be extremely proud of the way he played and conducted himself throughout some difficult times in the match (the weather yesterday clearly put him at a disadvantage in the 3rd set when they played in the rain for an hour, slowing his balls down and deadening their their bounces). With 52 wins to 1 loss at Roland Garros, he'll always be a legend. This year he's now leading the ATP in both earnings and points in The Race to London (Joker is 2nd, Fed 3rd). In addition to besting Borg's record 6 RG titles, Rafa also equaled Borg's Major title haul of 11. It is not at all hard to see him winning several more RG titles to tie Pete at 14. Perhaps he can even get the extra 2 or 3 he'd need to equal or pass Roger, if Roger is done with major titles.
Joker should look carefully at both his play and his behavior. An apology from him today to the fans, the organizers and the sponsor, Perrier, whose sign he destroyed with his racquet yesterday, would have been the classy way for him to leave this event. He can promise to try harder, but the only thing he can control is his own behavior. He seems like a good person, but clearly has not had the benefit of an Uncle Toni to tame his temper and place the appropriate value on humility and sportsmanship.
As far as Joker's play goes, he needs to go back to working on the serve that he had improved before last year. When his first serve percentage was positive, he controlled play and held. While he double faulted at crucial times, his second serve is still much more reliable than it was before 2011. When his 1st serve percentage was below 50% as it was for most of the first 2 sets, his ability to hold was vastly diminished. He was broken 7 times yesterday, 9 in all - losing almost half of his service games. Of the 7 times he broke, 4 came due to his advantage when conditions favored him (he broke Rafa 4 times in a row after being down 2 sets and 0-2). This was a pattern for him throughout the tournament. Had Roger served more consistently, he might well have beaten Joker again in the semis.
The importance of first serving percentages among the elite players can't be over-stated. It has been as important to Sharapova, The Williams, Clijsters and other top women players.
This will be even more important on grass. Rafa and Roger are tuning up by playing Halle this week, along with Berdych and Raonic, who will face Fed in the 3rd round. Berdych is in Rafa's half.
Mens Doubles Notes:
- The Bryans dropped the final 6-4, 6-4 as well as the #1 ranking, taken over by winners Max Miryni and Daniel Nestor. For Nestor, this represented his 3rd RG title in a row, his 4th in the last 6 years with 3 different partners (Zimonjic and Knowles). At 39 years old, he has a record 78 titles with 8 Majors.
Roland Garros, 6.11.12