Rafael Nadal was the second strongest link on the Tour in 2005, 2006 and 2007, constantly improving his game and challenging Roger Federer for the ATP throne. The Spaniard took a further step in 2008 to become world number one on August 1, dethroning Roger after four and a half years and beginning his reign at the top. Nadal conquered a “Channel Slam” in Paris and London to gain momentum before winning the Masters 1000 crown in Toronto to extend his streak. After 32 consecutive victories, Rafa lost in the Cincinnati semi-final to Novak Djokovic, and was among the favorites at the Beijing Olympics a few weeks later. Rafa defeated Potito Starace, Lleyton Hewitt, Igor Andreev and Jurgen Melzer to meet in the semi-final of the Olympic event, facing another rookie Novak Djokovic in a battle for the final. It was his fourteenth meeting on the Tour in two years, and Nadal beat Djokovic for the 10th time after a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 win in two hours and 11 minutes. Thanks to that second set, Novak claimed four more points than Rafa, but it was not enough to take him over, as Nadal prevailed with a late break in the decider. Djokovic had more winners and more unforced errors, keeping in touch with Rafa in the shorter range up to four strokes and beating him in the more extended rallies, which was not enough either.
Tracy Austin on Novak Djokovic
More than his tennis, it was the Serb’s emotional outbursts that stole the headlines at the Olympics. During his loss to Carreno Busta, Novak Djokovic smashed his racquet multiple times and even threw it into the empty stands after losing a point. Weighing in on the matter, two-time Grand Slam champion Tracy Austin admitted that it was strange to see a top player like Djokovic lose control in such a fashion. “First of all, Djokovic imploding, I have never seen a player where they actually kind of hit the ball in the net and take the racket and chuck it 15 rows up into the stadium,” Austin told Tennis Channel. “I will say, for Djokovic, he’s being compared to Federer and Nadal; these are like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama (of tennis). I mean, you know, they don’t do anything wrong. If he played in the era of John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase, and Jimmy Connors, he’d be number four,” she added. Despite his Golden Slam hopes now over, Djokovic still has a lot to play for this year.