• Miami Masters

Commanding Djokovic downs Nadal

Greg Garber
March 30, 2014
Djokovic wins in Miami

On the very last point, they both came net and studied each other intently, face to face.

The two finest players in the sport were fascinatingly close, and they were still swinging with fury. No.1-ranked Rafael Nadal ripped one last volley, but No.2 Novak Djokovic got a racket on it and managed to drop it into the open court. Seconds later, he was flat on his back, arms and legs outstretched.

Of the past 17 Grand Slam singles events contested, they have come away with a combined 12 titles. Perhaps even more remarkable, after Djokovic's's emphatic and forceful 6-3, 6-3 victory over Nadal on Sunday, they are the reigning champions of all nine ATP Masters 1000 events. From March to November, Indian Wells to Paris, they are the standard, the only standard.

"I played a great match," Djokovic said in his on-court interview. "From the start to the end, everything was working really well."

Djokovic, 26, is now a four-time Miami champion; this event remains one of the few - along with the ATP year-ender in London - missing from Nadal's glittering CV. Djokovic has won 10 straight matches and 20 straight in Masters competition. Like Serena Williams, Djokovic is comfortable on this court; he has won 18 of his last 19 matches.

Most Open era head-to-heads

Rafael Nadal is dominating his head-to-head with Roger Federer © Getty Images
  • 40: Rafael Nadal 22-18 Novak Djokovic
  • 36: Ivan Lendl 21-15 John McEnroe
  • 35: Ivan Lendl 22-13 Jimmy Connors
  • 34: John McEnroe 20-14 Jimmy Connors
  • 34: Pete Sampras 20-14 Andre Agassi
  • 33: Rafael Nadal 23-10 Roger Federer
  • 33: Roger Federer 17-16 Novak Djokovic

This was their 40th meeting, a staggering number that has no precedent; the previous Open era record belonged to Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe, who tangled 36 times. And this may have been the most complete victory - by either man. It was over in 84 minutes and the crowd and even both players seemed vaguely stunned by the swiftness of the result.

Nadal still holds a 22-18 edge, but Djokovic has won three straight matches and is the one now riding a hot streak. After losing the 2013 US Open final last year to Nadal, Djokovic won the next two, in Beijing and London. The give-and-take between them seems to elevate their games. And it's Djokovic's turn to run off and hide.

This was the first match for Nadal here in broad daylight for Rafa, which might have been a factor in the early going. Djokovic, meanwhile, had played all day matches coming in.

Usually, when they reach the finish line, they are already nearly spent. Yet, they often manage to summon something special.

Remember the 2012 Australian Open final, when they could barely stand when it was over? But the double walkovers on Friday gave them a rare two days off - and that was a win for aficionados of tennis, who got the privilege of seeing these two at their physical best.

On this day, particularly in the first set, Djokovic was seeing the ball extraordinarily well. He masterfully varied the tempo and trajectory, which never allowed Nadal to settle into his comfort zone of familiarity.

"I enjoy playing the tournaments over and over again, trying to win as many titles as possible," Djokovic had said early in the tournament. "Trying to strive for some kind of perfection, if there is a perfection in this sport."

For about three minutes, anyway, Djokovic was flawless.

With Nadal serving at 2-3, Djokovic basically won the match. First, hovered to net and put down a gorgeous forehand volley drop shot, then he stepped into a backhand and cracked a cross-court winner.

At 15-30, Djokovic hit a screaming forehand that seemed to clip the line. The replay challenge showed that about one-eighth an inch of the ball caught the paint. On break point, Djokovic's forehand found the line again and Rafa couldn't keep his answer inside the court.

When Djokovic was serving for the set, Nadal attempted a brief filibuster; down a point, he made a show of coming to his changeover chair and, presumably, adjusting an errant string. It didn't change the momentum, and Djokovic, with a triumphant glance at his box, strode off with the first set.

Nadal probably didn't know the number - it might have been just as well - but, previously, Djokovic was 34-0 in finals when winning the first set.

And then Djokovic broke Nadal to begin the second, opening the way to the second set. Make that 35-0.

For all the chaos that ensued here in recent days, Sunday's final remains the essence of elite men's tennis today.

Juan Martin del Potro withdrew before the tournament even began, to undergo what looks to be grand slam season-ending wrist surgery. Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka crashed out in his third match and Kei Nishikori took down world No.4 David Ferrer and No.5 Roger Federer back to back. And then Nishikori and Tomas Berdych checked out before their semi-final matches.

The one constant over the past five years has been the thrilling and intricate speed chess match that is No.1-ranked Rafael Nadal versus No.2 Novak Djokovic. They are, far and away, the best in their specialised business.

"Rafa, always a pleasure and a challenge playing you," Djokovic said after the match, meaning it.

He won Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back for the second time since 2011 - the same year he won three majors.

The way he's playing, you wonder if this is the year Djokovic can give him a go at Roland Garros, where the 27-year-old Rafa is an eight-time champion.

Earlier in the day, Martina Hingis won her first doubles title in seven years when she and Sabine Lisicki defeated Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 4-6 6-4 10-5.

The doubles title was the 38th for Hingis, a former No.1 singles player, but her first since Doha in 2007. The final was the first for the 33-year-old Hingis since she came out of retirement last year to play doubles.

Hingis also won Key Biscayne in 1998 and 1999 with Jana Novotna. She and Lisicki made the tournament as a wild-card entry.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com

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