The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was less than three years old when they had met in the final of 2009 Monte Carlo Masters, competing in their 16th match on the Tour and the third final. Nadal claimed a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 win and had to work hard for it, with the encounter lasting two hours and 43 minutes.
This was the fifth straight title for Rafa in Monte Carlo, undefeated in the last 25 matches in the Principality, and also the 12th triumph over Novak, the seventh on clay in as many clashes they had played. Despite the fact he was yet to beat Rafa on clay, Novak turned into his biggest rival on the slowest surface, challenging Rafa 12 months ago in Hamburg and Roland Garros and staying in touch with the mighty Spaniard in the opening two sets a few weeks earlier in the Davis Cup as well.
Djokovic gave his everything to finally end Nadal's streak in Monte Carlo but could have only won a set, losing the ground in the decider against a stronger player at that moment, both physically and mentally. They pushed each other to the limits, with some 40 exchanges that reached the tenth-shot mark and Novak stayed in touch with Rafa there, showing his fantastic court coverage and groundstrokes of the most excellent order that always required an extra move from Nadal to claim the point.
The Spaniard had the advantage in the shortest and mid-range points as well but had to give his best to emerge as a winner, requiring almost an hour to grab the final set despite just seven games played. Nadal was more efficient behind both the first and second serve, getting broken five times and stealing the rival's serve on seven occasions to forge the decisive advantage.
Also, Novak tried to be aggressive, rushing to the net and imposing his shots which had to come with the price, completing the match with almost 50 unforced errors. Novak wasted a game point at the beginning of the duel and Rafa broke him with a backhand crosscourt winner for a perfect start, only to lose serve in the very next game after a loose backhand that landed long.
The match developed into an open war right from the initial games and they needed 26 minutes to complete the first four, with Novak taking a 3-1 lead after another break in game four. Nadal erased the deficit instantly when he broke at love, holding in game six thanks to a backhand crosscourt winner to level the score at 3-3.
The momentum was on his side again and he converted the fourth break point in game seven to steal the break after more than ten minutes, closing the eighth game at love to move 5-3 ahead. Djokovic had lost his ground completely after that early lead, dropping serve again in game nine to hand the set to his rival 6-3 after grueling 58 minutes.
The Serb was there to compete, kicking off set number two with a break after a fantastic 36-stroke rally that made the crowd erupting in joy. Novak saved three break points in game four, jumping into a 3-1 lead with another smash winner, being in a good position to claim the set when Nadal sprayed a forehand error in the next game to fall 4-1 behind.
Serving well throughout the set, Djokovic clinched it with an ace at 5-2, gathering positive vibes and gaining the momentum before the decider after managing to take the drive away from Nadal's shots and keep the points on his racquet.
The pivotal moment of the entire final came in the first game of the decider when Rafa saved a break point with a breathtaking 39-shot exchange that sent Novak down to his knees, and another one with a service winner. Djokovic couldn't return serve on his third break point as well and the Spaniard held with a forehand winner after 13 minutes of play.
Novak lost the focus and gave serve away in game two after squandering a few game points, sending a forehand long and smashing the ball far away from the court in anger. The third game lasted more than ten minutes as well and Novak converted his third break point to erase the deficit and return to the positive side of the scoreboard, giving his 120% to chase a great rival and claim the first Monte Carlo crown.
He didn't stay on the winning track for too long, though, as Nadal broke again in game four and increased the advantage to 3-1. A perfect hold at love pushed Rafa 4-1 up, sealing it with an ace down the T line and leaving Novak with nothing left in the tank.
The Serb hit a double fault in the sixth game to find himself 5-1 down and Nadal wrapped up the win with another hold at love to celebrate the fifth straight Monte Carlo crown. The last three games had lasted just 12 minutes and if they were a little bit longer the match would have passed the three-hour mark, just showing how close the encounter was until the second part of the final set when Rafa took charge to bring it home.