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By Chris Oddo

Djokovic, 2013 Monte Carlo final (April 21, 2013) -- One of the most remarkable runs in tennis history came to an end today in Monte Carlo, adding thickness to the plot of tennis’s most vibrant rivalry.

Novak Djokovic’s 6-2, 7-6(1) victory over Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters final marks the indomitable Spaniard’s first defeat at the event in a decade. It also snaps an almost implausible 46-match winning streak for Nadal at the idyllic Monte Carlo Country Club.

Though not as important as the French Open in the grand scheme, Monte Carlo was always the place where Nadal’s beastly clay-court game was unveiled each year.

“After all the success I had here in my career, someday must arrive that day,” said an introspective Nadal after the match. “When somebody plays that good like Novak played today, it’s very difficult to win.”

With Djokovic nursing an ankle injury early in the week, and Nadal reeling off easy victories in typical swashbuckling form, a ninth consecutive title for Nadal seemed to be in the cards. But Djokovic, gaining in focus—and confidence in the ankle— with each successive triumph this week, rose up at just the right time to peak in today’s final.

“I’m very thrilled, full of joy at this moment” said Djokovic. “I beat the best player ever in the history of this court, and we all know how good his record in Monte Carlo is—eight titles in a row—and he let me win once. I’m just so happy because maybe it’s not the biggest tournament in the world but for me it’s one of the most important.”

After a rain delay pushed the start of the match back forty-five minutes, Djokovic started with his best foot forward, winning 24 of the first 36 points and taking the first five games.

The Serb would have five set points for a chance to become only the fourth person in history to win a 6-0 set off of Nadal on clay, and the first since 2007, but Nadal fought off each set point and eventually managed a gritty, seven-minute and 19-second hold to get on the board.

He would break Djokovic in the next game before dropping serve for a third time in the first set with a double-fault that gave Djokovic a one set to love lead.

In the second set, Nadal seemed more comfortable. With the sun shining, the drier, faster conditions of the court seemed to enable him to impose his game more freely.

He took a 4-2 lead, and looked to be making his move, but Djokovic, who played patiently at times and with courageous aggression and pinpoint precision at others, countered to level at four-all. When Nadal broke again to lead 6-5, Djokovic broke back to love to force the tiebreaker.

“I felt for moments in the second set, I played my best tennis of the week,” Nadal said. “So that's important.  When I was doing that, I wasn't far off him. I need more matches to play with this intensity all the time. I need to be completely focused in every moment.” 

Djokovic would prove to be the more opportunistic player in the tiebreaker, capitalizing on a string of errors from Nadal (Nadal had 35 on the afternoon, versus 22 for Djokovic), to hand Nadal his second loss in ten years and fifty matches at Monte Carlo.

With the victory the Serb joins Gaston Gaudio as the only man to have earned three victories against Nadal on clay. He is the only player to have ever defeated Nadal in three finals on the surface.

“I wanted that trophy badly all my life,” said Djokovic, “especially in the last six, seven years that I've been spending my time and living here between the tournaments in Monaco. This is a great confidence boost before the rest of the clay-court season.”


(Photo Credit: AP)

 

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