ThrowbackTimes Monte Carlo: Novak Djokovic ousts Rafael Nadal in the semis
by JOVICA ILIC | VIEW 2735
After a stellar 2013 that saw him winning seven notable titles, Rafael Nadal started to struggle again in 2014, missing a chance to win the Australian Open and losing ground on his beloved clay in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.
The Spaniard made one last push in defeating Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros for his ninth Major crown in Paris, but things didn't look bright for the rest of the season, being sidelined between Wimbledon and Beijing with the right wrist injury and playing only three tournaments by the end of the season.
Out of the winning rhythm and lacking the competitive matches, Rafa was nowhere near his best in 2015 despite scoring over 60 victories on the Tour, winning three smaller titles and staying away from Major glory for the first time since 2004 after falling to Tomas Berdych in the Australian Open quarter-final and Novak Djokovic in the same round at Roland Garros.
Also, Nadal stayed empty-handed during his beloved clay-court tournaments in April and May, including a 6-3, 6-3 semi-final loss to Novak in Monte Carlo. The Serb toppled the Spaniard for the second time in three years in the Principality, claiming his fifth win on clay over Nadal and going all the way after defeating Tomas Berdych in the title match to claim the fourth straight Masters 1000 crown!
Novak was the player to beat in the last couple of seasons, sending his dominance to another level in 2015 after conquering 11 trophies, including three Majors, the ATP Finals and no less than six Masters 1000 events, performing above all the others.
Novak won all four encounters against Rafa that season and gave him no chance in Monte Carlo. The Serb was pumped and motivated to avenge that Roland Garros defeat 12 months earlier, beating Nadal for the seventh straight time to turn their rivalry into his favor.
Like no other player, Djokovic is capable of taming Nadal's shots and keeping the points on his racquet, staying in touch with the Spaniard in the longer exchanges and breaking his weapons and rhythm in the shortest rallies to gain momentum.
In Monte Carlo 2015, Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal in straight sets.
Rafa didn't play badly in this match by any means, but it wasn't enough for a more favorable result, losing ground at 3-3 in both sets to hand the victory to his rival.
Nadal couldn't surpass Novak in the essential points or find some of his old magic that would turn the scoreboard into his favor and keep him in contention. Before this encounter, Djokovic had an enormous 15-2 lead in the meetings when he would keep Rafa under 50% of the second serve points won, building upon that in Monte Carlo after reducing the Spaniard to 48% of the points earned after missing the first serve.
Novak served at 75% and had troubles in three out of the first four service games, fending off two out of three break chances to limit the damage and sailing through the last five games to keep his rival in the danger zone.
Nadal had a break point in the grueling first set's seventh game, missing that opportunity and losing serve in the next one to give Novak the edge. Something similar happened in the seventh game of set number two when Rafa squandered five game points to suffer a break, which pretty much sealed his fate.
The crucial element in Novak's triumph was undoubtedly his backhand, like many times against Nadal, controlling the pace from the baseline and moving Rafa around the court. The Spaniard had to hit many forehands from the ad court, and it was hard for him to go back to the deuce side and defend his backhand like he would have wanted.
Also, Novak dominantly tamed the rival's forehand, leaving one of the most brutal tennis shots without power or depth that would give Nadal the advantage in the exchanges. Rafa hit seven winners from his more substantial wing, but at the cost of 22 errors, 13 of those unforced!
Djokovic painted the court with his backhand, crushing them down the line to force Nadal's mistakes and drawing the opponent out of the comfort zone. They had a similar number of service winners (Novak hit 12 in comparison to Nadal's ten), and the Serb was 22-18 in front in the winners from the field, firing 11 from his forehand alone.
After opening few games when he was trying to find the zone, Novak settled into a nice rhythm, and they had a similar number of unforced errors (18-17). However, he forced Rafa's 15 forced errors, staying on only eight due to a better court positioning and stronger groundstrokes.
Nadal also had three double faults and was on a negative ratio overall with 28 winners and 35 errors against Novak's 34 winners and only 26 mistakes. Nothing could separate the rivals in the rallies with five strokes or more, with Nadal leading 31-30.
On the other hand, Novak earned his victory thanks to a dominant display in the shortest range up to four shots, ousting his opponent 39-23 in the quickest points that would always give him an advantage against Rafa.