x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Rafael Nadal's clay win over Novak Djokovic can be a red herring

The Spaniard's eighth win at Monte Carlo may not necessarily mean the world No 1's control is over.

A charged up Rafael Nadal, right, came to the event on his favourite surface with enough rest.
A charged up Rafael Nadal, right, came to the event on his favourite surface with enough rest.

The result was emphatic, the lesson considerably less so.

Rafael Nadal ended his seven-match, 13-month losing streak against Novak Djokovic in the final at Monte Carlo, but not even the winner suggested that he had regained the upper hand in their rivalry at the top of the tennis world.

In 2011, they met six times in finals. Djokovic won them all. He also won the six-hour final at the Australian Open this year, about four months after Nadal conceded his best might not be good enough against the world No 1.

His 6-3, 6-1 rout of Djokovic in the final in Monaco might suggest, to those not paying particular attention, that something has changed.

Perhaps it has, but probably not.

Not even Roland Garros offers to the Spaniard the comfortable familiarity of interrupted success that the red clay of the principality on the Mediterranean does. Nadal has won eight successive titles, and his tournament winning streak stands at 42.

His one and only defeat there: to the Argentine Guillermo Coria in 2003, when Nadal was 16.

He expressed satisfaction that his knee did not trouble him during the tournament, which came after three weeks of rest and rehabilitation. He added: "Winning against Novak in the final after losing a few ones is important for me."

Djokovic, however, clearly was flat and uninspired in the final, which came only a few days after the death of his grandfather, in Serbia.

He stayed in the tournament but was fighting to retain his concentration. He wept after his third-round victory and seemed distracted during a semi-final victory over Tomas Berdych.

He apologised for his performance. "I definitely don't want to take away anything from Rafa's win. He was a better player," Djokovic said.

"But it's a fact that I just didn't have any emotional energy left in me. I've never been caught up in this kind of emotional situation before. I'm just happy to reach the finals, under the circumstances. It's been a very difficult week for me to go through mentally."

His immediate plans included a trip to Serbia to visit his grandfather's grave. He lauded Nadal's success in the tournament, but he made clear he had not presented much of a challenge in the final.

"I just wasn't there," he said.

Nadal moves on to the Barcelona Open this week, where he will be a heavy favourite. Djokovic will stand by his grandfather's grave, and take the week off ahead of the Serbian Open next week.

Both players are entered in Madrid and Rome, and if Nadal can replicate his success there, we will know more about the state of the rivalry than we do now.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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