David Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic one day after beating a tired Rafael Nadal. Was Djokovic tired too?

Yesterday David Nalbandian trounced Rafael Nadal in the Madrid Masters Series event, 6-1, 6-2. I don’t think Nalbandian would have won that match if Nadal had been at full strength. Nadal was clearly reeling from his tough match against Andy Murray and his knees were suffering from playing on the gritty indoor hard court.

Today Nalbandian beat Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-6(4). Was Nalbandian lucky again?

If Djokovic did enough things wrong, then Nalbandian was lucky. If Nalbandian did enough things right, then Nalbandian was playing like his old self. The player that used to be the number three player in the world before Djokovic took over the spot.

What did Djokovic do wrong and Nalbandian do right?

Djokovic’s Problems

1. Too much tennis. This is Djokovic’s ninth match in two weeks and a third of those were three set matches. He had trouble getting his feet underneath him. He stumbled a few times and had trouble with his footwork on return of serve.

2. Double faults. Djokovic hit two doubles faults in his first service game and five double faults for the match. His last double fault gave Nalbandian a match point. As Djokovic put it: “It happens, sometimes you play bad.”

3. Unforced errors. As far as I could tell, Djokovic had zero winners from his backhand side. That’s rare. He hit 34 unforced errors in two sets. That’s a lot.

4. Rhythm problems. In his second service game, Djokovic twice hit errors by trying to end the point too soon and lost his serve. Serving at 2-2 in the second set, he hit two drop shots on one point and added another on a later point. He lost both points. He couldn’t figure out when to attack and when to change pace.

Nalbandian’s Positives

1. Attacks. Nalbandian played excellent attacking tennis. He attacked off return of serve and he hit the corners with his ground strokes. He attacked Djokovic’s second serve and he attacked the net. What else is there to attack?

2. Big points. Nalbandian played the big points well. He saved the two break points he faced. In the second set tiebreaker he hit two service winners, a backhand winner, and an excellent return off a tough serve down the middle.

3. Good serves. He served himself out of trouble when he had to.

So which is it? Nalbandian did meet Djokovic on a day when he played badly but Djokovic could have won this match. He pulled even in the second set but Nalbandian kept attacking and played lights out in the tiebreaker.

Nalbandian was lucky. But other players have met Djokovic on one of his bad days this year and they seldom came away with a straight set win.

Nalbandian will play Roger Federer in the final tomorrow. There’s no way in hell Nalbandian wins that one. Is there?

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