The rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic was less than three years old when they met in the final of the 2009 Monte Carlo Masters, competing for the 16th time and in the third final. Nadal claimed a 6-3, 2-6, 6-1 victory after a hard-fought battle that lasted for two hours and 43 minutes, having to work for every point against the Serb.
It was the fifth straight title for Rafa in Monte Carlo, extending his streak to 25 triumphs in the Principality and earning the 12th victory over Novak, the seventh on clay in as many clashes they had played. Despite the fact he was yet to beat Rafa 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 as well. Novak gave his everything to finally end Nadal'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 played! Nadal was more efficient behind both 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.
Also, 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, only to lose serve in the next game after a loose backhand that landed long.
Rafael Nadal overpowered Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final 2009.
The match developed into an open war right from the initial games, and it took 26 minutes to complete the first four, with Novak seizing a 3-1 advantage after another break.
Nadal erased the deficit instantly after stealing Djokovic's serve at love and 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 before closing the next one at love for a 5-3 lead.
Djokovic lost the ground completely after that early lead, dropping serve again to hand the set to his rival after grueling 58 minutes. The Serb was there to compete, though, kicking off the set number two with a break after a fantastic 36-stroke rally that made the crowd erupting in joy.
Leading 2-1, Djokovic repelled three break chances to jump into a 3-1 lead with a smash winner, putting 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.
Serving well throughout the set, Djokovic clinched it with an ace at 5-2, accumulating positive vibes and gathering a boost before the decider after taking the energy away from Nadal's shots and keep the points on his racquet.
The pivotal moment of the entire final came in the decider's first game when Rafa saved a break chance with a breathtaking 39-shot exchange that sent Novak down to his knees, followed by another break point saved with a service winner.
Djokovic couldn't return serve on his third break opportunity, and the Spaniard held with a forehand winner after 13 minutes of play. 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 for over ten minutes, and Novak converted his third break opportunity to erase the deficit and return to the positive side of the scoreboard in the quest for the first Monte Carlo crown. The Serb didn't 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. The Serb hit a double fault in the sixth game to find himself 5-1 down, and Nadal wrapped up the triumph with another hold at love, celebrating 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, which illustrates how close the encounter was until the decider's second part when Rafa took charge to bring it home.