Monday, 23 April 2012

'The King of Clay' is here to stay

He's beaten him at the Australian Open. He's beaten him at Wimbledon. He's also beaten him at the US Open. World number one Novak Djokovic has proved in recent times that he has the edge over Rafael Nadal on the hard courts and grass courts, but Sunday's drubbing by the Spaniard in the final of the ATP Monte-Carlo Masters shows that the Serb has a very long way to go before taking the 'King of Clay' crown off his rival.  
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could meet in a fourth consecutive Grand Slam final
A comprehensive 6-3 6-1 victory for Nadal ended a seven-match losing streak against his counterpart and guided him to his first tournament win since his record-equalling sixth French Open title last year. It has to be taken into consideration that Djokovic's grandfather sadly passed away on Thursday, however, Nadal was simply too good for his opponent on the day as he cruised to an eighth consecutive title in Monaco and a record-breaking 20th ATP Masters 1000 success.  

Having lost his previous seven finals against Djokovic, Nadal would have been forgiven for feeling nervous despite his domination of the clay court season over the past seven years. However, from the moment the 25-year-old went a break up in the third game of the match, he never looked back. 

The outcome of the last eight finals between Nadal and Djokovic:
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 Djokovic
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Miami 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) Djokovic
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Madrid 7-5, 6-4 Djokovic
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome 6-4, 6-4 Djokovic
Wimbledon 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 Djokovic
US Open 6-2, 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-1 Djokovic
Australian Open 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5, Djokovic
ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte Carlo 6-3, 6-1 Nadal

The win marks an impressive start to Nadal's preparations for Roland Garros (27th May - 10th June) where he aims to claim a seventh title and in doing so, establish himself as the most successful clay-court player of the Open era. Prior to that, there are another two Masters series events in Madrid (6th May -13th May) and Rome (13th May - 20th May). Nadal will be wary of the fact that he was beaten convincingly by Djokovic in the final of both tournaments last season and keen to extinguish any signs of encouragement for the Serb this time round, ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year.

Djokovic is not only aiming to secure the career Grand Slam by winning the French Open; he is also vying to become the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously since Rod Laver achieved a clean sweep in 1969. With just two wins from twelve matches against Nadal on clay, there's no doubt that the final hurdle will be the toughest of all.

Roger Federer may still not have secured the career Grand Slam to this day had it not been for Robin Soderling's heroic victory over Nadal in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. The Spaniard's only defeat at Roland Garros opened the door for Federer to complete his collection but it's unlikely that Djokovic will be granted the same luxury. If he wants to join the elite group of career Grand Slam winners, he'll almost certainly have to overcome Nadal in the latter stages of the tournament.

The Master Series events in Madrid and Rome will tell us a lot about Djokovic's capability of doing just that, but such was Nadal's dominance on Sunday, it would seem that it may just be a step too far. Watch this space...

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