Struggling with a knee injury in 2009, Rafael Nadal made a perfect comeback a year later, winning three Majors and three Masters 1000 tournaments! The Spaniard was the player to beat in 2010, finishing as the year-end no. 1 and hoping for another successful ride in 2011.
Novak Djokovic was ready to crush the Spaniard's dreams, winning the Davis Cup crown for Serbia at the end of 2010 and fixing the health issues to become Nadal's greatest rival in 2011, beating him in no less than six finals!
Entering the season with seven triumphs over Rafa, Novak shifted into a higher gear that season, toppling the Spaniard at four Masters 1000 finals and at Majors at Wimbledon and the US Open, becoming world no. 1 and announcing his domination over the upcoming decade.
Djokovic took down Nadal in the title matches in Indian Wells and Miami, and Rafa was hoping to regain the composure on his beloved clay, winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona without Novak in the field. Still, the Serb was an unsolved enigma for the Spaniard that year, beating him in straight sets in the final in Madrid and Rome, for an evident frustration of the clay king.
With no room for errors, Nadal went to Roland Garros and survived a nightmare against John Isner in the opening round, prevailing in five sets and finding at least some kind of rhythm in the following rounds to reach the quarters.
He played better against Robin Soderling and Andy Murray to reach the sixth title match in Paris.
Rafa was ready for another tough encounter versus Novak, but it wasn't to be for the Serb that year at Roland Garros, suffering the first loss of the season in the semi-final against Roger Federer.
Honest as always, Nadal admitted it would have been hard to beat Novak in a potential title match, facing Federer instead and prevailing in four sets after more than three and a half hours of grueling tennis. In the next three Majors, Nadal would lose to Novak Djokovic in the final, missing a chance to add more Majors to his tally and finally beat an in-form rival.
"2011 was a tough year for me. I lost a lot of finals because I met a spectacular Novak Djokovic, but Wimbledon was one of the tournaments that I enjoyed playing the most. That year, I lost finals to Novak in Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome.
Had I met him in the final in Paris, I don't know if I would have been able to beat him. Novak was at an unreachable level at the time, and certainly better than me. Although I was playing well, I came losing many times against him, and he would have been the favorite in Paris as well," Rafael Nadal said.