Djokovic Too Hot To Handle

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is one win away from becoming the first player to sweep the first three ATP World Tour Masters 1000s of the season after beating eight-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-3 on Saturday in the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters semi-finals.

The Serb has a 29-2 match record on the season. After winning the Australian Open in January, he became the first player to complete the March Masters sweep of the Indian Wells-Miami double three times.

The 27-year-old Djokovic has not dropped a set on his 2015 clay-court debut this week and takes an 18-2 record over Tomas Berdych into Sunday’s final. The Belgrade native is bidding to lift the trophy at the Monte-Carlo Country Club for the second time, following victory in 2013, and capture his 23rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown.

“This tournament means to me a lot,” said Djokovic. “Obviously it’s a special event for me because it’s played in a place where I live and where I practise. I practise in this club throughout the year. So, of course, I am very motivated to win the title now that I’m reaching the final step and playing against Tomas, who also had a very good tournament.

“I am aware of the fact that people would put me as a heavy favourite because of the results that I had and the record against him and so forth. But I still want to keep the same preparation, routine and mindset going, not really get carried away by this win, even though this win is big. I have one more match to go.

“I think he actually likes playing on clay. It gives him time to swing through on the forehand, plus backhand side as well. He has a good serve. He won against some very good players this tournament. He’s one of the most consistent players we have this year. I’m sure he’s going to be very motivated. I’m going to try to just follow up on everything I’ve done so far this week, keep on playing the way I played. If I do so, I think I have a good chance.”

In their 43rd meeting, Djokovic closed the gap on Nadal to 20-23 in their head-to-head as he ended the Spaniard’s bid to win a ninth Monte-Carlo crown with victory in one hour and 38 minutes.

Nadal made the better start to the match, going up an early break as he capitalised on early errors from Djokovic. But the Serb soon raised his level to match that of Nadal and the result was a series of staggering baseline exchanges that enthralled the crowd on Court Central, with the seventh game of the first set becoming one long hot shot reel.

After drawing level with Nadal at 2-2, Djokovic then saved break point in a lengthy seventh game before breaking Nadal in the eighth game to take a stranglehold on the first set. The top seed closed out the opener and immediately had Nadal under pressure in the early stages of the second set. The Spaniard fended off two break points to stay in contention, but Djokovic’s pressure told in the seventh game as he broke for a 4-3 lead, reeling off the final three games of the match to seal victory.

“It was a fight,” said Djokovic. “I think the 3-3 game in both sets, they were the decisive moments in the match. I managed to win them. When you get to play somebody who has won so many times, so many matches on clay courts, he’s no doubt the best player that ever played the game on this surface, you got to use the opportunities. You got to be able to step in.

“This is the only way I was going to win against him or any other match that I play against him, especially on this surface, is to be aggressive and play my style of the game. I was aware of that. Just very pleased with the performance, honestly.”

Djokovic is an ATP World Tour-best 10-1 vs. Top 10 opponents this season, defeating eight different opponents (not faced Kei Nishikori).

The 28-year-old Nadal has a 53-4 record in Monte-Carlo, winning eight straight titles from 2005-12 and finishing runner-up to Djokovic in the 2013 final. Coming into the final, the Mallorcan had played what he declared to be his best tennis of the season to beat John Isner and David Ferrer in tight, three-set matches.

“I was able to play at the right level for moments to compete against a very, very tough player, the best player in the world like Novak is today,” said Nadal. “But I got a little bit tired a little bit too early. Then when you get a little bit tired, you play a little bit shorter. Then is impossible against him.

“For me it is a very positive week, the most positive week of the season, without any doubt. The way that I played yesterday and for moments today is the way that I want to play. Just with more matches playing like this, I will be enough confident to play. That level will not be the exception, it will be the normal thing. That is the thing that I need to make happen. I hope this tournament is a key moment for my season.”

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