April 18, 2015
Rafa Nadal’s courageous attempt to master Novak Djokovic on clay ended in defeat for the much-loved Spaniard in Monte Carlo.
Flashes of the old Rafa brilliance thrilled the crowd and made for a wonderful contest against the fearsome Serb.
Indeed Nadal troubled the world’s best player often enough to suggest that he still has a fighting chance of winning one more Roland Garros on his favourite surface.
Djokovic has beaten Nadal before in Monaco, only for the result to be reversed a few weeks later in Paris.
Top players will tell you there is so much more space in which to operate in the bigger Roland Garros arena, it is almost like being on another planet – and one that has so far suited Nadal better over five sets. But with Novak so desperate to win the French Open, there could be a titanic struggle just around the corner. And few are betting against the unstoppable Djokovic from claiming French glory and his Career Slam at last.
Djokovic will feel proud to have seen off this first huge challenge of the year from Nadal – and done so in style at times on the way to a convincing 6-3, 6-3 victory.
Now he faces Tomas Berdych in the Sunday showpiece, after the sixth seed beat Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-4 in the first semi-final.
That match didn’t fascinate as much as the one between two of the greatest players of all time. The first set between Novak and Rafa revolved around an incredible seventh game, one that lasted more than ten minutes. Nadal had the chance to break but Djokovic held his nerve to send the clay specialist sprawling all over the court when it mattered.
Still the Spaniard wouldn’t submit and we were treated to one dream rally after another. No one wanted the game to finish, though eventually the determined Serb prevailed.
A deflated Nadal, who had won the first two games of the match, promptly dropped his own serve and before we knew it Djokovic had three set points.
Brave Rafa saved two of them but he couldn’t return a wide-angled serve – and suddenly the world number one had taken the opening set.
Gutsy Nadal battled gamely in the second set and worked miracles to save a break point in yet another dramatic seventh game. Novak shook his head in disbelief, the hint of a smile spreading across his astonished face. Then he promptly took the game anyway, with Rafa’s first serve rarely sufficiently convincing.
Indeed Novak was able to break one last time to close out the match, even after Nadal had saved a match point with typical defiance. The second set hadn’t quite hit the heights of the first. But there is so much more to look forward to this summer.