'I can beat Rafael Nadal on clay,' Novak Djokovic recalls

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'I can beat Rafael Nadal on clay,' Novak Djokovic recalls

Competing against each other for the first time, Novak Djokovic retired against Rafael Nadal at the 2006 Roland Garros after the second set. Winning two ATP titles by the end of the season, the Serb was ready for an even stronger assault in 2007, setting high goals and showing a desire to improve his game.

Novak made a notable start, winning the third ATP title in Adelaide and getting a chance to compete against Roger Federer at the Australian Open. With more good results waiting around the corner, Djokovic reached his first Masters 1000 final in Indian Wells, losing to Rafael Nadal in straight sets.

Novak was the player to beat in Miami two weeks later, claiming his first triumph over Rafa and defeating Andy Murray and Guillermo Canas for the first notable ATP title at 19. Djokovic did not have too much time to celebrate, returning to Serbia for the Davis Cup tie.

The Serb led his country against Georgia on an indoor carpet court, dropping one game against an unranked rival and turning his focus towards the clay swing in Monte Carlo. In his season's opening match on dirt, Djokovic ousted a former Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in an hour and 42 minutes.

Novak Djokovic spoke about Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo 2007.

Novak won 55% of the return points and had the upper hand, dominating sets he won to notch the 13th victory in the last 14 matches. Gaudio grabbed four breaks, but he needed more to stay in touch after losing serve times.

Spraying more errors in set number two, Djokovic lost the ground for a moment. He fended off a break chance at the beginning of the third with an ace and never looked back. After the victory, Novak spoke about his goals on clay that spring, saying he is a better and stronger player than a year ago and feeling confident about his chances against Rafael Nadal.

"I felt pretty comfortable on the court; it all depended on me.

I made many errors in set number two, and Gaudio took advantage of that. At the beginning of the third, I saved a break point with an ace, never looking back after the opening two or three games. If I want to chase big results on clay this year, I must be physically prepared.

Last year, I won my first ATP title on clay and reached the Roland Garros quarter-final. I'm more reliable than in 2006, playing with more motivation and confidence. I have proved to everyone that I have the quality to chase notable results at Majors and Masters 1000 events.

I beat Rafael Nadal a few weeks ago, and that victory means a lot to me. I will take one step at a time, not rushing anywhere. My goals are high, and I believe I can defeat Rafael Nadal on clay," Novak Djokovic said.