Playing the 50th edition of their rivalry in Madrid, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic brought a memorable game into play. While Djokovic was leading the head-to-head, 26-23, he had won previous of their 7 meetings, including 3 on clay. The last time Nadal defeated Djokovic was at the 2014 Roland Garros. Nadal had lost 15 straight sets to Djokovic in their previous meetings, each time Djokovic winning in straight sets.
The semi-final match was an epic one, in the history of their rivalry, and the history of tennis rivalries. No other 2 ATP players have met for 50 times in the Open Era, whereas the Federer-Djokovic rivalry has witnessed 45 matches as of now, where Djokovic leads by a match. Hence, the half century mark was vital. Surprisingly, ruthless Rafa took the hottest revenge, defeating Djokovic in straight sets.
From the very first game of the match, Djokovic lost his service game, losing the second one again, giving Nadal a 4-0 lead. With the performance exhibited by Djokovic, Nadal had an easy chance to earn a bagel or a breadstick, which had never happened in any of the sets in the previous 49 matches. Winning a game from a break point, Djokovic finally won a game. The other 2 games being held, Nadal sealed the set. It was a sigh of relief as it was the first set he took from the Serb in 3 years.
Exhibiting a masterclass game, Nadal had won 86% of the first serve points, while Djokovic had 56%. It was a moment when Djokovic needed to gain some momentum, and shift his slow gears to the fast ones. Ruthlessly again, Nadal broke Djokovic’s first service from the first game of the set itself. Soon after Nadal lead 2-1, Djokovic broke back for the first time in the match, and levelled it at 2-2. Further, he again lost his serve, after which there was no looking back for the king of clay to finish off the much-anticipated match so cleanly. With Real Madrid football star Cristiano Ronaldo and Olympic legend Nadia Comaneci looking on, Nadal closed out the victory on his third match point after one hour and 38 minutes. The defending champion was knocked out in straight sets, by the dominating clay master.
“What’s important to me is to make it to another final,” said Nadal. “As time goes by, what is important is the titles, not the opponents that you have beaten. It’s just the titles that you have won. It’s true that some matches are more important than others. But I’m just here to try to make it the best possible way, to play my best tennis, and of course to beat an opponent such as Novak, it gives you a lot of confidence. It shows you you’re working in the right way.
“I think I played a really good first set. The second set I was a little bit more nervous. I played a little bit shorter. I think then the match was more even. Finally, I managed to win it. It’s a very important victory. It gives me the possibility to play another final and to continue in a positive line. I am happy the way I played today, being able to make it to the final once again. I’ll try to be 100 per cent and ready for tomorrow’s match.”
The Spaniard moved to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Race To London with a quarter-final win over David Goffin on Friday, surpassing Roger Federer. He will also bid to tie Djokovic atop the Masters 1000 titles leader board with his 30th crown.