The Madrid Open was the fourth Masters 1000 tournament in the ATP calendar in 2011, and we had Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the title match for the third time. After winning the Davis Cup title at the end of 2010, Novak was ready to conquer the tennis world in the first half of the following season, winning already the sixth title in Madrid and improving his score to a perfect 32-0! Like in Indian Wells and Miami, Djokovic overpowered Rafael Nadal and lift another Masters 1000 trophy, defeating a great rival 7-5, 6-4 in grueling two hours and 18 minutes after mastering Nadal from the baseline with picture-perfect groundstrokes. Both players had to work hard in the semi-final encounters against Roger Federer and Thomaz Bellucci, doing enough to set up another big final after playing above all the others in the first five months of 2011.
Novak made the difference with both the first and second serve, controlling the scoreboard with a rock-solid display on the return despite being broken three times, stealing almost half of the points in Rafa’s games and earning five breaks from 12 chances. Nadal stayed in touch with Djokovic in the shortest points. The Serb forged the advantage in the longer and more dynamic rallies, covering the court beautifully on both wings and engineering points more efficiently, especially in the closing stages of both sets. Hitting the ball on the rise, Novak played from inside the baseline as much as possible and took time off Nadal’s strokes to break the opponent’s rhythm and impose his shots in the exchanges. Also, his balls had much more depth than Nadal’s, which forced the Spaniard to play from the awkward positions and commit more errors. Novak held in the opening game after saving two break opportunities and forced Rafa’s mistake in game two to build up an early lead that gave him confidence and momentum.
Novak Djokovic claimed the first Madrid Open crown in 2011, beating Rafael Nadal.
A hold at love sent the Serb 3-0 up, and he rattled off 16 of the last 19 points to create three more break chances in game four with a backhand down the line winner. Nadal couldn’t do much to stop the opponent’s march, falling 4-0 down after another forced error and standing powerless against the sheer velocity of Novak’s shots. The match was only 25 minutes old when the Spaniard started his comeback, breaking at 15 in game five after Novak’s double fault and making a quick hold with a service winner in the next one to reduce the deficit to 4-2. Djokovic recovered instantly, brought the seventh game home and extended his lead to 5-2, putting Nadal under even more significant pressure. Rafa did what he had to, holding at love in game eight with a service winner to prolong the set and force Djokovic to serve for it. Novak played a loose service game, and Nadal broke back with a forehand winner, getting back to the positive side of the scoreboard and serving in game ten to level the score at 5-5.
He saved a set point with a service winner and another when Novak missed a forehand, with the third set point come and gone for Djokovic when he sprayed a backhand error. Rafa finally held with an unreturned serve, and after precisely an hour, we had the match alive and kickin’. Novak swiftly left the previous game behind, holding at love for a 6-5 lead after a booming serve and breaking Nadal at love thanks to a lucky net cord to grab the opener 7-5 after 68 minutes. Rafa was there to compete, hitting an outstanding tweener winner to earn three break chances at the beginning of the second set and moving in front with a forehand down the line winner.
Novak broke back immediately with a backhand winner and forged the advantage when Nadal landed a backhand long in game three. The Spaniard saved a break opportunity to level the score at 2-2 and was on the level terms with Novak in the next couple of games, holding without too much trouble to lock the score at 4-4. Every point became crucial at that stage, and Djokovic was the one who felt no pressure, going 5-4 ahead with another backhand crosscourt stroke that forced Rafa’s mistake, with the Spaniard serving to stay in the match. The Serb opened that last game with two winners and created three match points with a backhand bullet. Novak converted the second when Nadal’s slice landed wide, celebrating his first Madrid crown in what turned out to be one of the greatest Open era seasons that propelled him towards tennis immortals.