Monte-Carlo Masters: Djokovic scores vital win over Nadal to reach final
Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-3 to reach the final of the Monte-Carlo Masters
It was the match that jumped off the page when the Monte-Carlo Masters draw was made almost a week ago.
Where would the No3 seed and eight-time champion Rafael Nadal fall? Would it be with four-time finalist Roger Federer or with the 2013 champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic.
Both would set up the latest in two famed rivalries, but in the event, the winner would be the most played-out contest in the Open era, a 43rd meeting between Nadal and Djokovic.
What made his so compelling was that Djokovic, though still trailing in their head-to-head 23-19, had gradually come to dominate the rivalry since he first reached No1 in 2011: 19 to 12. And since then, only two of their contests had fallen short of the finals: This would be only the third in over four years.
Djokovic, too, now towered over his rivals in the rankings by 1000s of points, and last week took the lead over Nadal for number of weeks at No1. He had won four of their last five matches, including Rome last year, but their most recent was highly significant, because it was at Roland Garros and it went to Nadal.
Here, Djokovic, already the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami champion this year, had the chance to assert himself over the “king of clay”, the man who led him 14-4 on this surface, ahead of the Serb’s assault on the one big title missing from his resume, the French Open.
It proved to be as thrilling as all the blockbuster hype promised, and the atmosphere was lifted further by partisan fans setting up chants from one side of the arena to the other.
Nadal raced from the blocks, showing that he intended to attack—perhaps wary that Djokovic would attempt to do the same. The Spaniard was rewarded with a break in the first game via his signature shot, a forehand lasso of a winner. But Djokovic is not a former champion for nothing, nor the top of the tennis pile.
He broke straight back, and they probed and tested one another through the next four games, their long baseline rallies punctuated by drop shots and net attacks, and remarkable chase-downs and passing shots.
Nadal applied the pressure again in the seventh game, bringing up break point with a forehand down the line. They battled through multiple deuces, each vying for control around the net with drops, touch replies and lob attempts.
Their cat-and-mouse tactics brought the fans to their feet time and again, but the athleticism and tactical smartness of Djokovic survived the assault, and he turned the pressure back on Nadal, breaking to 30 when another penetrating ball skipped off the Spaniard’s baseline.
Djokovic’s serving, as it has been for most of the week, rose to the challenge, too: He dropped only two points on his first serve in the set, sealing the opener, 6-3, in 43 minutes.
Nadal found himself on the ropes at the start of the second set, too, but held off break points. However, his serving could not match that of his opponent. Djokovic twice served to love, again deploying some precise drop shots. They edged to 3-3 but then Nadal let a 40-0 lead on serve slip away to deuce, and then faced break point.
He chased and scurried and pounded his forehand, but Djokovic seemed to have all the answers. Nadal saved another break point with an ace, his only one of the set, but on a third break point, he forced a forehand wide and Djokovic pumped his fist to mark what was clearly a crucial break.
The crowds felt it, too, and for several minutes, a Mexican wave circled the arena. It did not throw Djokovic off his course and, having consolidated his break, he determined to finish off his opponent sooner rather than later. Another drop shot took him to 15-30, and then a Nadal forehand long brought up break point.
The Spaniard bravely threw in a drop shot and chased in for a put-away but Djokovic pounced on a second serve for a scorching winner and another break point. He finished the job with a backhand, 6-3, and a celebratory leap of joy.
“I think I was not that far,” said Nadal afterwards. “For moments I was playing at very high level. Him, I think he played great. I just congratulate him for the way that he’s playing, the way that he’s winning almost every match of the year.
“For me, it is a very positive week, the most positive week of the season, without any doubt. I think if I am able to keep doing that in the next tournament in Barcelona, that I have a tough draw, I will say that I am very well again.”
It takes Djokovic to his 33rd Masters final and he remains on course to win a his fourth Masters crown in a row—and draw level with Federer for total Masters titles.
He will face Tomas Berdych in his attempt to score another big milestone, and with 18 wins out of 20 against the Czech already, it’s hard to see the super Serb not rising to his latest challenge.