ThrowbackTimes Madrid: Rafael Nadal beats Novak Djokovic to reach final

The 50th chapter of an outstanding rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic from Madrid 2017 will not find its place among their most extraordinary encounters. Still, it was a significant one, especially for the Spaniard, who defeated the Serb for the first time since Roland Garros 2014! Nadal beat Djokovic 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and 38 minutes, ending a seven-match losing streak against the mighty opponent, who had also won the last 15 sets they played before Madrid! Nadal was the favorite after rattling off 13 consecutive wins on clay, and because Djokovic was in the worst form in seven years, unable to fight against Nadal at that moment. The first set was one-sided, as Rafa dominated in every segment and did more than enough in the second to score the first straight-sets triumph over Novak since Rome 2009! The Spaniard moved great, hitting the ball well from both wings and winning the rallies he had been losing against Djokovic in their previous matches.

As many times that season or since Wimbledon last summer, Novak’s strokes just weren’t there, having no power or depth to drive Nadal away from the comfort zone. The Serb’s shot selection was wrong on many points, going for drop shots and finding it hard to change the direction and move Nadal around the baseline or create an open space. Rafa was excellent, keeping his serve safe almost all the time and stepping in every time he had to win an important point, like that break chance he fended off in the encounter’s last game. Of course, once Novak managed to find his game in set number two, we saw how hard it is for Rafa to stay at the same pace, but he did a great job in overpowering Djokovic to bring the encounter home. Rafa lost 19 points on serve, playing against only two break chances and losing serve once to mount the pressure on the other side of the net. Novak struggled with his initial shot, losing 48% of the points (he won 29 points on serve and 11 were service winners) and facing six break chances.

He saved only two of these, and his defeat was inevitable when we know all that. Nadal finished the match with 13 service winners, two more than the Serb, and created an 18-14 advantage in the winners from the field, punching the ball with efficiency from both the forehand and backhand wing. Djokovic couldn’t find his shots, especially in the first part, committing 21 unforced errors and 11 forced. Nadal started to miss more often as the encounter progressed, but he stayed on 15 unforced errors and only seven that Novak forced, which made the difference. For an illustration, Nadal had only three errors from his backhand while Novak counted to 14, another important reason for this scoreboard! The Spaniard had a 28-22 lead in the shortest points up to four strokes, toppling Novak in the mid-range rallies from five to eight strokes 24-17, where the Serb is usually in the league of his own. It was 13-9 for Rafa in the most extended exchanges, another proof of how good he played and how tough it was for Novak to achieve a more favorable result.

Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in straight sets in Madrid 2017.

It was a furious start from Nadal, who broke at love in the first game with a backhand return winner and held in game two from 30-0 down after winning a 16-stroke rally and firing three service winners for 2-0. Novak dropped serve again in game number three, unable to find the rhythm and missing many balls to stay inferior in the exchanges against a determined rival. Things looked better and better for Nadal, who held at love in game four to race into a 4-0 lead after just 17 minutes, taking 17 of the first 21 points! Novak was yet to hit a winner from the field in those opening four games, making seven unforced errors instead. Djokovic almost wasted a 40-0 advantage in the fifth game, hitting his first winner of the match and holding after deuce to get his name on the scoreboard. Rafa went 5-1 in front, picking up another more prolonged rally and closing the game with a service winner to completely control the match’s course.

In game seven, Novak saved a set point with a service winner and held to reduce the deficit to 2-5, playing a bit better and imposing his shots to shake off the pressure from his back. Nonetheless, he was powerless on the return, as Rafa opened the eighth game with two service winners and sealed the set with a beautiful backhand drop shot for 6-2 after some 40 minutes. Destructed and absent, Novak opened the second set in the worst manner, adding four more unforced errors to his tally to get broken in the first game, with a mountain to climb if he wanted to turn the tables in this encounter. Nadal hit three winners in game two to materialize the break and was in the driving seat to bring the match home without any trouble. In game three, we finally saw something more from Novak, as he landed two service winners and two more from his forehand for his best game since the start of the encounter that gave him a positive boost.

He found a great return winner in game four to dismiss Nadal’s game point and took the next two longer exchanges to break the Spaniard for the first and only time and level the score at 2-2. A backhand crosscourt worked well for Novak in that game, and that was maybe the key for him to put Nadal under bigger pressure and make him work harder for every point. Nonetheless, Novak couldn’t maintain that level and suffered a break in the next game to fall 3-2 behind, in what would be the last break of the match. Nadal confirmed the advantage with three service winners that sent him 4-2 up, starting to make more errors than in the opener but still competing on a higher level than Novak. They both played well on serve in the next three games, and Nadal scored a crucial hold in game eight at love and served for the victory at 5-4. He was 40-15 up, but Novak fended off both match points with winners, refusing to surrender and earning a break chance that could have changed the clash course. Nadal remained focused, though, repelling it with a great drop shot and closing the match two points later after another good attack to celebrate his first win over Novak in almost three years. 

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