Rafael Nadal was a player to beat in 2008, winning two Majors and becoming world no. 1 in August. Rafa embraced 32 consecutive victories for his career-best run before Novak Djokovic ended it in the Cincinnati semi-final. Nadal claimed his fourth straight Roland Garros crown in June, dropping four games versus Roger Federer in the final.
Nadal carried that form to grass and conquered Queen's and Wimbledon, winning his first Major outside clay. Three weeks later, the Spaniard lifted the trophy in Toronto for his fifth straight title since Hamburg, becoming a genuine contender for the ATP throne kept by Roger Federer since 2004.
Rafa did not have much time to celebrate his Canada crown, heading toward Ohio to compete at the Cincinnati Masters. Nadal wished for a more reliable run than in the previous years at one of the fastest events on the calendar.
Rafa used a favorable draw and defeated Florent Serra, Tommy Haas and Nicolas Lapennti to advance into the semi-final, where he faced world no. 3 Novak Djokovic. It was already the 13th meeting between these two youngsters. Nadal had won the previous nine, including triumphs in Hamburg, Roland Garros and Queen's in the last months.
Still, the Serb ousted Nadal in March in Indian Wells, hoping for more in Cincinnati after being a much better player on the fast hard court. Djokovic delivered a rock-solid performance to topple Nadal 6-1, 7-5 in an hour and 26 minutes, terminating the Spaniard's career-best streak of 32 consecutive victories!
Nadal had already secured to replace Federer at the top of the ATP rankings on August 18 before the match. Still, he wanted to stay on the winning path and add the title he was missing in his collection, only to be denied by a strong rival.
Djokovic struggled to find the first serve, especially in the first set.
Novak Djokovic ended Rafael Nadal's streak of 32 wins in Cincinnati 2008.
Still, there was nothing wrong with his initial shot, overpowering the great rival from the baseline with aggressive and deep groundstrokes.
Novak took the ball early and kept the points on his racquet. He built a clear 48-36 edge in the rallies up to six shots, forcing short exchanges and not letting Nadal extend the action. The Serb grabbed 19 out of 25 points on the second serve.
This element made all the difference, as he faced only one break chance in the entire encounter, keeping the pressure on the other side. On the other hand, Nadal offered four break chances to the Serb and saved one, unable to send the match into a decider after getting broken three times.
Rafa raised his level significantly in the second set. However, he fell short in the closing stages to suffer his first defeat since the beginning of May and Rome! Novak kicked off the encounter with a hold at love. He broke Nadal in the second game without losing a point, returning well and taking time off from the Spaniard's shots.
Rafa hit a double fault in the fourth game and gave another break chance to his rival. Novak seized it with a forehand down the line winner and moved 4-0 up. Djokovic's groundstrokes were on fire, and he nailed another backhand winner that sent him 5-0 in front, demolishing Rafa from the baseline and keeping everything under control.
The Spaniard finally got his name on the scoreboard in game six before the Serb sealed the opening set with another reliable hold for 6-1 after 26 minutes. Rafa started playing better in the second set, finding some fantastic winners and holding easier than in the first part of the clash.
Also, Novak sprayed more errors and offered Rafa a break opportunity in game six after a loose forehand. The Serb saved it with a good forehand attack in an 18-stroke rally and leveled the score at 3-3 with two service winners, refusing to give momentum to his opponent.
Rafa held at love in games seven and nine to keep the pressure on Novak. The Serb stayed focused in those crucial moments and followed the rival's pace. Novak found some good returns at 5-5 to break Rafa at 15 and move in front.
Serving for the victory in game 12, Djokovic fired three winners to wrap up the encounter and reach his first Cincinnati final.
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