May 13, 2019
Men’s tennis has never looked more entertaining after an astonishing week on clay.
Novak Djokovic played so well to beat Stefanos Tsitsipas in Madrid that the exciting young Greek seemed to be wondering if his opponent is secretly super-human.
Tsitsipas, fast becoming a superstar himself, had defeated the great Rafael Nadal before succumbing to Djokovic, who took the title 6-3, 6-4.
Previously we had the rare delight of Roger Federer entering the clay-court drama, while Dominic Thiem showed what a force he can be on the dirt too.
But it was the performance of Djokovic that had Tsitsipas simply marvelling at his quality.
The 20-year-old said of Novak: ‘He has the best backhand I have ever seen in a human being. He controls it so well.’
The first set, in particular, saw that backhand hold sway, as Djokovic raced to a 3-0 lead.
Novak never really looked anything other than in full command. He moved Tsitsipas left and right before conjuring some punishing drop shots too.
By the time the key ninth game arrived in the second, the younger man was weary and there for the taking.
‘He had played late to beat Rafa and wasn’t as dynamic in his movement,’ admitted Djokovic.
Everything is relative. Stefanos is becoming a supreme physical specimen and is no longer the gangly teenager who broke into the big time only relatively recently.
Tsitsipas climbs to world number seven after this and rightly so. There just wasn’t quite enough left in the tank after his heroics against Nadal.
‘He moved me around and took advantage,’ agreed Tsitsipas after Novak’s ruthless master class.
‘This was important for my confidence,’ said Djokovic after his record-equalling 33rd Masters 1000 triumph.
‘I wasn’t playing great after the Australian Open and was looking for momentum. I played some of my best tennis here.’
Before Madrid, we probably would have backed Nadal for yet more Roland Garros glory. Now Djokovic might just be favourite.
Rafa will surely step up a level for his favourite Slam in Paris. Never count the great man out.
But Nadal’s vulnerability of late, combined with Novak’s timely resurgence, might just give the Serb the edge.
It is all beautifully balanced for more tennis epics this European summer. With Wimbledon just around the corner, the timing is perfect.
Two generations of tennis super-heroes are now clashing deliciously, their battles simply gripping.
We can’t wait to see how it all translates onto grass in a few weeks, can you?