After consistent results at notable tournaments in the past 15 months, Novak Djokovic had a chance to become world no. 2 for the first time in Hamburg in 2008. Facing the king of clay Rafael Nadal in the semi-final, Djokovic gave everything in 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 loss after three hours and three minutes.
Rafa prevailed with a strong performance in the decider, although he had to dig deep for every point to emerge at the top and remain on the title course. Nadal took only five points more than Djokovic and defended 15 out of 19 break chances to stay in touch.
The Spaniard crossed the finish line with five return games on his tally, recovering after the second set and emerging at the top. Two great rivals hit a similar number of winners, and Novak stood above Rafa in the forced errors department.
Nonetheless, the Serb squandered that lead in the unforced errors segment, spraying too many of those, often in the pivotal moments, to propel Spaniard into the title clash against world no. 1 Roger Federer. The match goes on under the roof of Centre Court, and Novak earned first break chances with a volley winner in game two.
He forced the Spaniard's error to grab an early break and settle into a nice rhythm. Finding his range, Djokovic placed a forehand down the line winner in game three to cement the advantage, winning 14 of the opening 18 points.
Nadal trailed 30-0 in the fourth game and looked powerless against a determined opponent. Rafa erased two break chances and brought the game home to get his name on the scoreboard. Novak wasted game points at 3-1 and lost serve when Rafa landed a forehand down the line winner.
Novak Djokovic kept Rafael Nadal on the court for over three hours in Hamburg 2008.
Nadal saved a break point in game six and held at 15 at 3-4 to remain on the positive side. The Spaniard grabbed a break at love in game nine and serves for the set.
Ready to fight, the Serb broke back at 15 following a drop shot winner that extended the set. Staying focused, Rafa placed a forehand down the line winner in the 11th game and fired another on serve in the next one to take the opener 7-5 after grueling 72 minutes!
Djokovic saved two break chances in the second set's fifth game and brought it home with Nadal's forced mistake. That gave him momentum and a break in game six for a 4-2 advantage. Novak caused another Rafa's error in the seventh game before earning a break at 15 at 5-2 to seal the set in style.
Nadal started from the beginning in the final set and painted a short backhand crosscourt winner in the opening game for an early break. The Spaniard defended two break chances in the second game and held following the Serb's forehand mistake.
Djokovic squandered more break chances in the fourth game, and Nadal grabbed it with a winner at the net for a 3-1 lead. Both players held at love in games five and six before Rafa broke at love in game seven following Novak's wild forehand.
The eighth game experienced eight deuces and helped the encounter reach the three-hour mark. Nadal saved three break points and seized the fifth match point when Djokovic's drop shot failed to pass the net to start a massive celebration.
Novak felt disappointed about the loss, but he knew he was close to beating Rafa on the slowest surface. "It was unfortunate it finished as a loss for me, but I have to take the positives out of the match. I feel that with this performance and the match in general, I'm getting closer to Rafa on clay, and hopefully, next time, I can get a win," Novak Djokovic said.