Daily Bagel: Nadal's diligence prevailed over Djokovic's theatrics in final

Tuesday September 10th, 2013


The Daily Bagel is your dose of the interesting reporting, writing and quipping from around the Internet.

• Video: In case you haven't noticed, Rafael Nadal headbanged his way to the title.

• Peter Bodo's take on Nadal's win over Novak Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

The match-up between Djokovic and Nadal, aside from producing rallies that seem to belong in some perfect athletic parallel universe, is compelling. But not in the familiar ways. It isn’t a clash of radically different personalities (a la Pete Sampras vs. Andre Agassi), or about pitting a creative genius against an implacable, focused grinder who does fewer things, but all of them well (a la John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg).

The difference between Djokovic and Nadal seems to be a profound one, because it goes right to the issue of temperament. Djokovic, with his flair for the dramatic, lives on inspiration. Nadal, by contrast, may have the fierce mien and primitive zeal of the born competitor, but he’s also a model of diligence. During a match, Djokovic struts around like a thespian, making dramatic statements but occasionally stepping on his lines; Nadal, for all the vicious punch in his forehand, is like a kid collecting and counting his Halloween candy. Don’t for a moment think he doesn’t know exactly how many Kit-Kats he's acquired.

• From where Brian Phillips was sitting, it was all about Nadal.

It's not that Djokovic didn't factor in the match. For a long stretch during the second and third sets, he had control of it; you could have watched him moving Rafa around the court and concluded that he'd weathered his opponent's strongest blast in the first set and somehow, as he often does, spun the compass so that the wind was blowing from his side. But from the beginning, the match was about Nadal -- whether he could be beaten at all, whether this post-break, post-injury Rafa was vulnerable on a slow hard court, or vulnerable anywhere except on grass.

From the crowd, the new Nadal-centric reality felt obvious, like one of the unacknowledged givens of the match. Most of the fans were cheering for Djokovic for most of the night, but -- and this is a completely insupportable statement, but I had several drinks during the course of the evening, so you can trust my intuition here -- there was an edgy logic behind the support. Djokovic-Nadal matches have a reputation for boiling over into five-set, five-hour classics; the crowd had come to see a classic Djokovic-Nadal match; with Rafa in Red Trajectory mode, the only way a classic Nadal-Djokovic match could happen was if Djokovic played insanely well. So they cheered for Djokovic, but it was really about Nadal.

• The ATP provides some numbers behind Nadal's 13th major title.

• Always a must read: Jon Wertheim's 50 parting thoughts from the U.S. Open.

• Louisa Thomas of Grantland with a great piece on the Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka rivalry.

• From The Wall Street Journal: Tennis has a data problem and IBM's Slamtracker system isn't the solution.

At the Grand Slam men’s matches this year for which IBM computers identified three keys for each players, nearly one-third of the time the loser of the match either achieved as many keys as the winner, or more.

That in itself doesn’t refute IBM’s claims to have identified important insights. Maybe tennis is so difficult to analyze that these keys do better than anyone else could without IBM’s reams of data and complex computer models. Only, it’s not. A much simpler approach, using just the sport’s most basic set of statistics and setting the same targets for each player in each match at a tournament, does at least as well as IBM at identifying performance benchmarks that separate winners from losers.

• Meanwhile, how does Djokovic do this????

Nadal's celebration in GIFs.

• Rod Laver on Rod Lavers.

• Bonus video: A solid highlight reel in case you missed the men's final:


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