Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were the rivals in the 2008 Olympic Games semi-final, battling for a place in the final and a medal. Rafa prevailed 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in two hours and 11 minutes to remain on the gold medal course.
The Spaniard overcame the second set failure and delivered a late break in the decider to advance into the title clash and beat Novak for the tenth time in 14 meetings. Thirteen days earlier, Djokovic ended Nadal's streak of 32 consecutive victories, and he looked good to defeat the Spaniard again in Beijing following an impressive performance in set number two.
As a true champion, a soon-to-become world no. 1 Nadal raised his level again in the third set and crossed the finish line to set the gold medal clash against Fernando Gonzalez. Novak had more winners and unforced errors. He stayed in touch with Rafa in the shortest range up to four strokes and toppled him in the most extended exchanges to take four points more than his rival.
Still, it was not enough to propel him over the top after playing a loose service game in the decider's closing stages. Djokovic repelled three break chances in the opening game and fired an ace in game three to open a 2-1 gap.
Nadal broke at 2-2 with a forehand down the line winner and again in game seven thanks to Djokovic's double fault for a massive advantage. Novak pulled one break back in game eight and held to reduce the gap to 5-4.
Novak Djokovic lost to Rafael Nadal in three sets at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Serving for the set for the second time in the tenth game, Rafa held at 30 to claim the opener and gain a massive boost.
Eager to leave everything on the court, Novak took charge in the second set and raced into a 3-0 lead. He hit a service winner two games later for a 4-1 advantage, looking good to extend the battle. The Serb broke again in the sixth game with a backhand winner and fired another at 5-1 to wrap up the set and gain a boost.
Both players served well in the third set's opening eight games, with more drama guaranteed in the rest of the clash. In the ninth game, Nadal forced Djokovic's mistake to move 5-4 up and prolonged the next one. The Serb fended off the first match point before the Spaniard converted the second following Novak's terrible smash to celebrate a massive victory and advance into the gold medal match.
"Loss is something you never wish to happen, but that's a part of the sport. I have had a great tournament, reaching the semi-final and playing well despite finishing on the losing side. I played aggressive tennis in the second set and parts of the first and third.
My game is all about that, and I hope to use that tomorrow. It was a terrible miss in the final point; you must win those without thinking. My legs stopped, and people were screaming during my smash shots. Now I must push myself to think positively and give my best tomorrow.
I will be thrilled if I win the bronze; this is a special event you will remember for the rest of your life. I expected Rafa to make a comeback and raise his level; that's why he is No. 1. He has been the best player this season and is very strong mentally.
When you win a set 6-1 against Rafa, he wants to change something and play on a higher level in the following set. I expected that and tried to maintain my momentum and an aggressive approach. We both fought well in the final set until that tenth game when he broke me," Novak Djokovic said.