How many "Best match of the year so far!" did we hear in 2011? I heard it just yesterday from one of the commentators during the Rome semifinals between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.
The match was - without any doubt - a great match. It started with the now customary 6-1 to Djokovic, making it seem as though the 38th straight win (36 this season) will be in his pocket quickly enough. However, the fatigue caught up with Novak soon after that, and Murray won the second set 6-3.
The final set was all about pressure, and dealing with it. Novak broke first to lead 3-1, but Andy broke back, held his serve, and broke again to lead 4-3. Two successive breaks (WTA much?) later, Andy Murray was at 5-4, serving for the match. At this point, it almost seemed over - Djokovic looked like he was running out of gas during the last set, suffering from pain in his legs and shoulder, and generally more upset with himself than usual.
And yet, serving at 30-15, Murray couldn't deal with the pressure well enough. A double fault prevented him from getting to a match point, and after a few break chances and another unfortunate double fault, Djokovic broke back, again. 5-5.
Soon enough, it was tie-break time. A couple of errors and a couple of winners later, Novak had 4 match points. He only needed one of them to finish it off, 6-1 3-6 7-6(2).
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Image, via the Novak Djokovic Fan Club Facebook page)
I'm still not really sure how he did it. He was clearly very tired, and Andy was playing really well most of the time. But he still found the grit and determination to continue fighting, during moments when a less stronger player would've already given up.
And so, for the fourth time in 2011, the Masters 1000 final will be a battle between the best two players in the world right now - Nadal vs. Djokovic once more. Who will deal with the pressure better today? Rafa is the one who needs to defend the title, and who needs to show that he can beat the 2011 version of Novak, after failing to do so in their last 3 meetings. I think it shouldn't be too difficult for him, if only due to the difference in the time they had to rest. But surely Novak has nothing left to prove anymore. After practically 6 months without losses, the streak will probably end tonight, and that's alright. The pressure will be back for the Roland Garros.