World No 1 Novak Djokovic will try to deal Rafael Nadal another blow when the world’s two top players clash in today’s Monte Carlo Masters tennis final, where the Spaniard is chasing an eighth consecutive crown.
Nadal recorded his 41st win in a row in the season’s first big claycourt event as he defeated Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-3 6-4 in Saturday’s semifinals, while the Serbian battled back from a set down to beat sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 4-6 6-3 6-2.
Djokovic has won their last seven encounters, which were all finals in grand slam or Masters events, including at the Madrid and Rome claycourt tournaments last year.
However, Nadal is unbeaten since 2005 in the principality, and has reached this year’s final without dropping a set.
“It’s an ultimate challenge”, Djokovic, who lost the 2009 final to the Spaniard, told a news conference.
“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?”
Djokovic has been overcome by emotion at times since the death of his grandfather on Thursday and the top seed had to work hard to move past Berdych after two hours 42 minutes.
He wowed the packed crowd when he hit a backhand winner to wrap up the victory and advance to his 45th ATP Tour final.
On a sunny afternoon by the Mediterranean, where the players were distracted by gusty winds, Djokovic wasted an early break chance in the first set with uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Berdych relied on his powerful forehand, as he did in his quarterfinal win over world No 4 Andy Murray, to clinch the opening set.
Djokovic, who now has a 9-1 win-loss record to Berdych, raised his arms to the sky after holding on to his serve to take the hard-fought opening game of the second set.
He repeatedly screamed out loud and clenched his fists several times as he mounted his fightback, breaking early in the second and third sets.
Nadal stuck to his typical aggressive style to upset Simon, the ninth seed, who lacked the cutting edge on the crucial points.