Chasing Rafael Nadal's Shadow: Novak Djokovic's Clay-Court Struggle

Novak Djokovic lost to Rafael Nadal in the 2007 Rome Masters

by Jovica Ilic
Chasing Rafael Nadal's Shadow: Novak Djokovic's Clay-Court Struggle

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were the players to beat at the start of the 2007 Masters 1000 series. Two youngsters met in Indian Wells, Miami and Rome, with Nadal scoring two wins and lifting two titles. Nadal was a two-time defending Rome Masters champion, facing Novak Djokovic in the quarter-final.

The Spaniard scored a 6-2, 6-3 victory in an hour and 41 minutes to reach the semi-final. Novak could not win at least a set against the king of clay, but he still felt good about his clay-court game, hoping to challenge Rafa in the upcoming duels.

Nadal dominated with his initial shot, facing one break chance and never losing serve to mount the pressure on a teenager. Novak could not follow that pace, dropping half of the points in his games and losing serve four times.

Rafa fired 30 winners and only ten unforced errors. He left Novak behind in the most extended exchanges to seal the deal in straight sets and remain on the title course. Nadal made a strong start and broke in the encounter's first game after Djokovic's forehand mistake.

The defending champion held at 15 in game two to confirm the lead and settle into a fine rhythm. Novak faced seven break chances at 0-2, unable to find the rhythm and move Rafa away from his comfort zone.

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets in Rome 2007.

The Serb saved them and remained within one break deficit.

Novak earned a break chance in the sixth game, and Rafa saved it to stay ahead. Djokovic got broken in the next one to push Nadal 5-2 in front and closer to the opener. The Spaniard served for it in game eight and produced a fine hold for 6-2 and a boost.

Djokovic fought back in set number two and stayed in touch in the opening six games. However, he played a loose service game to experience a break and fall 4-3 behind. The Spaniard confirmed a break with a forehand winner in game eight and crossed the finish line with a break at love a few minutes later for his third victory over Serb from four encounters.

"I have been working hard on my physical preparations after Monte Carlo. I wanted to be ready for Rome, Hamburg and Roland Garros. I had difficult matches in Rome, but I felt good on the court today. We had long games and points, and I'm not tired.

That's positive news ahead of Roland Garros. I prefer hard court, but I play well on clay too. This defeat will not disappoint me, as I lost to a player with almost 20 straight victories. I'm still confident, and I'm among the world's best clay-courters.

The fast court will offer someone a chance to challenge Rafa. Still, he likes the conditions too. He can play on every surface; he proved that at Wimbledon last year. Rafa has played on a high level since Monte Carlo, giving us no chance to beat him," Novak Djokovic said.

Rafael Nadal Novak Djokovic Rome Masters