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Djokovic Ends Nadal's Clay Run

Madrid, Spain

Djokovic© Getty ImagesWorld No. 2 Novak Djokovic won his eighth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.

World No. 2 Novak Djokovic notched his 34th consecutive victory as he brought to an end Rafael Nadal’s 37-match unbeaten run on clay, defeating the defending champion 7-5, 6-4 in the final of the Mutua Madrid Open.

“Under the circumstances, I’ve played probably the best match of my life on clay against the World No. 1 and the player to beat on this surface,” declared Djokovic. “The way I played was just fantastic. I’m definitely satisfied with the performance and the overall tournament.”

The 23-year-old Djokovic has not been beaten since the semi-finals (l. to Federer) of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in November and has opened the 2011 season with a 32-0 mark, taking in titles at the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade and now in Madrid.

The Belgrade native’s 32-0 start to the season is second only to John McEnroe, who began 1984 with a 42-0 mark.

“I know that this run that I have is really incredible but I try to think about how long it’ll go and when I will be beaten,” said Djokovic. “It’s how many more wins I’m going to have. Every time I go on the court I’m motivated to win and not thinking that this is the day I’ll lose.”

After clinching his eighth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, and third of the season, Djokovic received 1000 South African Airways 2011 ATP Ranking points and € 590,000 in prize money. The Serbian is currently leading the way to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and finish the year in the coveted No. 1 spot.

Despite never having beaten Nadal on clay in nine previous attempts, Djokovic went into the final with the confidence of having defeated the Spaniard in their past two meetings in the finals of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. The Serbian certainly looked to have the measure of Nadal in the opening exchanges and his devastating hitting from the baseline quickly earned him a 4-0 lead, silencing the Caja Magica.

The top-seeded Nadal hit back swiftly, though, and immediately halved the deficit to the delight of the local fans. Djokovic looked as though he would close out the set in the ninth game as he opened up a 30/0 lead on serve, but Nadal fought back and broke the Serbian to bring himself back level.

It was testament to Djokovic’s self belief that he maintained his composure in the face of Nadal’s revival and nearly clinched the set in the 10th game as he engineered three set points. He was unable to convert, but attacked Nadal again in the 12th game and was rewarded by finally laying claim to the first set.

Nadal responded in some style at the start of the second set, hitting the shot of the match with a sensational ‘tweener lob winner as he broke Djokovic in the opening game (watch video). But again Djokovic stayed focussed and immediately struck back to level.  As the set approached its conclusion, it was Djokovic who displayed the nerves of steel and the courage to attack as he broke Nadal in the 10th game to seal victory in two hours and 17 minutes.

“He’s playing at a really high level. We’ve got to accept that,” said Nadal. “When someone is better than you there is nothing you can do other than congratulate him and that’s it and look forward to your next tournament and try to keep up, see what you’re missing, what you’re doing right and face forward with the correct attitude and with mental strength. You have to be cold, mentally speaking, and you have to look for solutions. Try to be better, try to practice and next time I’ll try to do better.”

The 24-year-old Nadal was chasing his third title in Madrid, after victories in 2005 (d. Ljubicic) and 2010 (d. Federer), and his third trophy of the season. The Mallorcan had not lost a clay-court match since the 2009 Roland Garros fourth round (l. to Soderling) and opened his 2011 campaign with back-to-back victories at Monte-Carlo and Barcelona (d. Ferrer both times).

Last year Nadal completed a historic sweep of the three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments, before triumphing at Roland Garros. He will look to rebound from this defeat by retaining his title at next week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.

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