Five thoughts off men's semifinals
Rafael Nadal (above) rallied from a set down to roll past Andy Murray into his fifth Wimbledon final. He
WIMBLEDON, England -- Five thoughts in the immediate aftermath of Friday's men's semifinals at Wimbledon:
• Djokomotion. If you're going to ascend to become the No. 1-ranked player in the world, this is the way to do it. Novak Djokovic arrived in style today, showing off his battery of offensive and defensive skills, returning serve as if playing tee ball, and scoring a terrifically impressive Big Match win, taking down Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3. In so doing, he became the 25th men's player to hold the top ranking. (And he broke the eight-year Federer-Nadal stranglehold.) How quickly we forget: Djokovic has lost one match since Thanksgiving weekend in 2010. He showed why today. Now, he's one match away from winning Wimbledon, which would mean much more to him than being No. 1.
• Same Old Tsonga. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a terrific talent who can beat anyone on any given day. This grass-court season alone, he's taken down both Nadal and Federer. But he still has a tough time stringing together quality wins on the grand stages. Tsonga played at a nose-bleedingly high level on Wednesday, recovering from a two-sets-to-none deficit to beat Federer. And he broke Novak Djokovic in the first game today. Then Tsonga came down from his high. Not only did he begin missing balls. His mind wandered. Two points from the first set, he hit a second serve in excess of 130 m.p.h. for a double-fault. On another occasion he forgot the score and headed to the chair on an even game. He deserted his strategy of serving to Djokovic's forehand. Tsonga ought to leave encouraged, not least for staving off match points and extending Djokovic to a fourth set. But he still needs to show that he can back up one good win with another.
• Rafael Nadal is a beast. OK, we knew that already. But it was sure reinforced today. After a lackluster first set, "nadal" metamorphosed into "NADAL" and simply battered Andy Murray, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. It was a clinic in the art of competition, succeeding under adverse conditions, breaking an opponent's spirit and neutralizing a crowd. Does any athlete in sport rise to the occasion quite like Nadal does? Even the BBC conceded, "He ripped the heart out of Murray -- the man playing at home." But this was also a tennis clinic. The King of Clay is an exceptional grass-court player. The defense. The cutting slices. The tactics. The best net game this side of Federer. It was all on breathtaking display today. Not for nothing has Nadal won 20 straight matches here, and if he plays anywhere near this level on Sunday, it's hard to see him losing his crown.
• Andy Worry. To say that the mood on the grounds following Murray's defeat was gloomy, well, that would be a woeful understatement. Losing to Nadal is no shame. But there seemed to be a collective realization that Murray has his work cut out for him. Heading into this match, he was playing well. He'd been able to manage the immense pressure that comes with being a British hope at Wimbledon. He's the best British player since World War II. But the irreducible truth: he is just not as good a player as Nadal, especially when Nadal is at his best, as was the case today. Murray was leading and in control of the match; he missed one easy forehand and one easy overhead. And Nadal simply used the opportunity to wrest control of the match. After that, it two different classes of players and two different classes of competitors. Murray can still win a Slam. He can still win THIS Slam. But a lot has to break his way. For starters, he needs to avoid Nadal's half of the draw -- something that's only happened once in the last 15 majors. • A banner day. At another time and place we can gripe about tape-delayed broadcasts, grunting players, medical time-outs and American tennis woes. Today, let's should celebrate a banner day for tennis. Two matches played at exceptionally high level. A new number one. A vast array of skills of display. (Bravo to the greenskeepers while we're at it: this surface is so far removed from the slick greensward that gave rise to the 1990s serve-a-thons, it now accommodates all syles.) The defending champ played like it. There were no controversies. No labor disputes. No players mocking their opponent's illness. No riots when the fan favorite lost. A brilliant afternoon and evening of tennis, one that emphasized what's right about the sport.