April 21, 2012
Djokovic, Nadal battle in Monte Carlo final
By SPORTS NETWORK
ROQUEBRUNE-CAP-MARTIN, FRANCE - Rafael Nadal's bid for an eighth straight Monte Carlo Masters crown won't come easy, as the clay court king will have to do it against world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final.
Nadal ran his winning streak on the Monte Carlo clay to 41 straight matches with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Frenchman Gilles Simon in the second of Saturday's semifinals.
Djokovic had a more difficult opening semifinal, rallying for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 triumph over sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych. The Serbian star, who resides in Monte Carlo, previously reached the final of this event in 2009 and became one of Nadal's many victims in a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 setback to the Spanish stalwart.
"It will be the most difficult match for me in this tournament," said Djokovic about facing Nadal. "He's the player to beat here. He's the player to beat on clay courts. He's the best ever in the history of the sport on this surface. It's the ultimate challenge. I need to play well. I need to play well from the first to the last point. I cannot have ups and downs. I cannot afford that against Rafa. I'm aware of that. But why not believe that I can win?"
While Nadal's success at this event has been unparalleled, Djokovic has clearly held the upper hand in their recent matchups with seven straight wins since the start of the 2011 season. Djokovic, during his dominant 2011 campaign, did not play at Monte Carlo last year.
Each of the last seven meetings have come in finals, including a pair of clay events last year. Djokovic posted straight-set wins on the slow surface last year in Madrid and Rome.
Djokovic will play in his third final of 2012, having already captured titles at the Australian Open and Miami Masters. He beat Nadal in a five-set thriller for the championship at the year's first Grand Slam.
Nadal, meanwhile, has not won a tournament since capturing the French Open last spring. He didn't have to face Djokovic at Roland Garros thanks to Roger Federer's semifinal win.
Sunday's final will be the second of the year for Nadal, who followed his loss to Djokovic in Melbourne with semifinal setbacks to Federer at Indian Wells and Andy Murray in Miami. He withdrew before the Miami semifinal because of a knee injury.
Overall, Nadal still holds a 16-14 advantage in the lifetime series against Djokovic, but hasn't tasted victory since a round-robin win at the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals.
It's been a tough week for Djokovic, who is playing after learning of the death of his grandfather on Thursday.
A win for Nadal on Sunday would give him 20 career Masters titles, breaking a tie with Federer. He is also 46-21 all-time in finals, while Djokovic owns a mark of 30-14 in title matches.
Sunday's winner will collect $603,000.