The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was less than three years old when they met in the 2009 Monte Carlo Masters final. It was their 16th meeting and the third in the ATP final. Nadal claimed a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 victory after a hard-fought battle that lasted two hours and 43 minutes, working hard for every point and securing his fifth consecutive title in the Principality.
Rafa extended his winning streak to 25 triumphs at this event and notched the 12th victory over Novak, the seventh on clay in as many clashes. Despite the fact he was yet to beat Nadal on the slowest surface, Djokovic became his most prominent rival on clay.
Novak challenged Rafa 12 months ago in Hamburg and Roland Garros and stayed in touch with the mighty Spaniard in the opening two sets a few weeks earlier in the Davis Cup. Novak gave his everything to end Rafa's Monte Carlo streak but could only win a set, losing ground in the decider against a more reliable 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. Novak stayed in touch with Rafa there, showing his fantastic court coverage and groundstrokes of the highest order that always required an extra shot from Nadal.
The Spaniard had the advantage in the shortest and mid-range rallies but had to give his best to emerge as a winner, needing almost an hour to grab the final set despite just seven games! Nadal was more efficient behind the first and second serve, getting broken five times and stealing the rival's serve on seven occasions to forge the decisive advantage that carried him home.
Novak tried to be aggressive, rushing to the net and imposing his shots that came at the price of almost 50 unforced errors. Djokovic wasted a game point at the beginning of the duel, and Rafa broke him with a backhand crosscourt winner for a perfect start.
The Spaniard lost serve in the next game after a loose backhand that landed long.
Rafael Nadal overpowered Novak Djokovic in the 2009 Monte Carlo final.
The match developed into an open war right from the initial games, and it took 26 minutes to complete the first four.
Novak forged a 3-1 advantage after two breaks of serve on his tally. Nadal erased the deficit instantly after stealing Djokovic's serve at love, and he held 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 chance in game seven after over ten minutes. The Spaniard closed the next one at love for a 5-3 lead. Djokovic lost the ground completely following that early lead, dropping serve again to hand the set to his rival 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 erupt in joy. Leading 2-1, Djokovic repelled three break chances to jump into a 3-1 lead with a smash winner.
He put himself in an excellent position to claim the set when Nadal sprayed a forehand error in the next game to open a 4-1 advantage. Djokovic served well throughout the set and clinched it with an ace at 5-2 to accumulate positive vibes and gather a boost ahead of the decider.
The pivotal moment of the entire final came in the decider's first game. Rafa saved a break chance with a breathtaking 39-shot exchange that sent Novak down to his knees, followed by another break point denied with a service winner.
Djokovic could not return serve on his third break opportunity, and the Spaniard held with a forehand winner after 13 minutes. Novak lost focus and suffered a break in the next game 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 over ten minutes, and Novak converted his third break opportunity to erase the deficit and return to the positive side of the scoreboard. The Serb did not stay on the winning track for too long, though, as Nadal broke again in game four to increase the advantage to 3-1.
A perfect hold at love pushed the Spaniard 4-1 up, sealing it with an ace down the T line and leaving Novak with nothing left in the tank. In the sixth game, the Serb hit a double fault to find himself 5-1 down, and Nadal wrapped up the triumph with another hold at love to celebrate the fifth straight Monte Carlo crown.
The last three games lasted only 12 minutes, and if they were a bit longer, the match would have passed the three-hour mark. That illustrates how close the encounter was until the decider's second part, when Rafa took charge to bring it home.