Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have forged one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history, battling against each other in incredible 56 matches. Twenty-five of those came on clay, with the Serb standing as Nadal's most formidable rival on the slowest surface, beating him seven times, including one Roland Garros triumph and four Masters 1000 finals!
Nadal and Djokovic were to face in the Monte Carlo final a couple of weeks ago, although they both failed to make an impression, with none of them reaching the semi-final. Rafa lost to Andrey Rublev in three sets in the quarters, while Novak went out even earlier in a shocking straight-sets defeat against Daniel Evans, with the Briton heading to Monte Carlo with only four victories on the slowest surface!
Trying to leave the setback behind him, Djokovic went to his hometown of Belgrade, entering the Serbia Open as the top favorite for the title. Novak scored commanding victories over Soonwoo Kwon and Miomir Kecmanovic to set the semi-final clash with Aslan Karatsev.
The Russian became the first qualifier in a Major semi-final at the Australian Open, losing to Djokovic and serving revenge in Belgrade with a massive 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 victory over world no. 1 in three and a half hours!
Toni Nadal backs Novak Djokovic to return at his best and challenge Rafa on clay.
Aslan threw everything he had at Novak, playing well-balanced tennis and overpowering an 18-time Major winner from the baseline to advance into the final and celebrate the career's most significant victory.
Karatsev fended off jaw-dropping 23 out of 28 break chances and scored six breaks that carried him over the top. Novak didn't feel well on the court, struggling physically and enduring until the end because of the home fans that came to see him.
Djokovic will not play in Madrid next week, taking more time off the court and recharging batteries ahead of Rome and Roland Garros. Toni Nadal believes that Novak is still his nephew's Rafa most dangerous rival on clay, saying Novak doesn't need much to find his form and fight for the big titles again on the slowest surface.
"Djokovic will have more doubts in the next tournament he plays after those exits. Still, he is one of the players who can find his form quickly if he plays a good match. He remains Rafa's ultimate rival on clay," Toni Nadal said.