Defiant Rafa stuns Djokovic for landmark win
Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:32
Four hours, three saved match points, two tie-breaks and a strapped knee – you’ve got to hand it to Rafael Nadal, he makes sure the fans get their money’s worth!
The world No.1 produced a gritty performance to stave off the sustained attack from a mightily unlucky Novak Djokovic 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(9) and set up a showdown with Roger Federer, who kept alive his hopes of a first title since last October by beating No.5 seed Juan Martin Del Potro with a far more routine 6-3 6-4 victory.
Nadal, chasing his sixth title of the year, is now one match away from another accolade – becoming the first player to win all three clay court Masters events in the same year after victories over Djokovic in the finals of Monte Carlo and Rome.
The Spaniard has now won an incredible 150 matches on clay since 2005, but was a just whisker away from only his fifth loss on the red stuff in 154 matches as he struggled with a right knee injury early in the match, struggling with his backhand and dropping his serve in the second game with an uncharacteristic double fault.
Across the net, Djokovic began in inspired form. The Serb, fighting to reclaim the world No.3 ranking he lost to Andy Murray, confidently held his own serve to take the first set.
After fighting off a break point and holding for 2-1 in the second, Nadal called for the physio to have his knee heavily strapped. The signs should have been good for Djokovic, but he failed with two chances to break serve in game nine and missed another in game eleven before Nadal took the tiebreak 7-5 on his third set point.
The match truly came to life at the start of the final set. Nadal was in trouble when he slipped 3-1 down but immediately broke back, while it was Djokovic’s turn to call for treatment when he pulled up with cramp.
With the match clock approaching the four hour mark, both players appeared to find a second wind as the shot-making and court coverage stepped up a notch on both sides of the net. Djokovic came within two points of a famous victory with Nadal serving at 15-30, but the Spaniard saw off the threat to bring up a final set tiebreak.
The Serb also took the initiative in the nailbiting tiebreak, but Nadal produced a string of stunning rallies to save the three match points and converted his second when Djokovic netted a weak forehand to send the partisan home crowd into raptures.
After collapsing to the dirt and being shadowed around the court by a junior gatecrasher as he saluted the crowd, Nadal was magnanimous in victory.
“He’s probably feeling down now but when he analyses the match in the cold light of day he’ll take positives out of it and see he was very close to beating me,” he said. “It will definitely give him confidence for Roland Garros and he’s been having a spectacular clay season.
“He’s a great player, he always has been. It seems to me he’s getting better with every game.”
The shattered Serb, however, was at least able to take the positives of another tough defeat with a touch of gallows humour.
“I don’t know what to do – next time, I’ll probably take two rackets on the match point and try to hit with both of them,” said Djokovic, who has had a fine clay season, including winning the title in his native Belgrade last weekend, and said his recent meetings with Nadal had boosted his confidence. “It’s frustrating that when you play so well you can’t win.”
“I’m taking positives from the last couple of matches we played on this surface,” he said. “And the positives are that I was one point away from the victory.”