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Rivalries 2012 - Djokovic vs. Nadal


Nadal, Laver, Djokovic© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal looks on as Rod Laver presents Novak Djokovic with the Australian Open trophy. reviews how the key rivalries played out in 2012. Today we feature Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal.

What was Rafael Nadal to do against Novak Djokovic in 2012 after the events of 2011? In one of tennis’ most remarkable seasons, Djokovic had swept three of the four Grand Slam titles in 2011 and, in doing so, had inflicted six defeats on Nadal in six meetings, all in finals. The Serb had even extended his domination over the Spaniard to clay, a surface on which Nadal had been nigh-on untouchable for the past six years. It was quite the contrast, with Nadal having previously held the upperhand in their rivalry, going into the 2011 season with a 16-7 lead over Djokovic in their FedEx ATP Head2Head.

After losing his US Open title at the hands of Djokovic, a defeat that came just three months after the Serb had beaten Nadal in the Wimbledon final, the Mallorcan said, “I like to fight; I want to enjoy this battle against him. Six straight losses, for sure that's painful. But I'm going to work every day until that changes.”

Read: Djokovic vs. Nadal - The Rivalry

Fans did not have to wait long to see if Nadal could indeed turn around his fortunes against Djokovic, who had finished 2011 by stripping Nadal of another of his honours, that of year-end World No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. They came together in the final of the Australian Open in what was arguably the greatest match of the season.

In the longest-ever match at the Australian Open and the longest men's Grand Slam final on record, Djokovic defeated Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in five hours and 53 minutes. The match came just 48 hours after Djokovic had needed four hours and 50 minutes to put away Andy Murray in the semi-finals.

It was a match in which Nadal had his opportunities, though. The left-hander had chances for a 5-2 lead in the fifth set, but uncharacteristic unforced errors undid his challenge. With seven successive defeats against Djokovic, Nadal was left with the problem of not only solving the Belgrade native’s game style and supreme confidence levels, but also the mental hurdle that was building as the Serb continued to close the gap to 14-16 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. 

This is the same Nadal, though, who four years earlier had figured out how to transfer his clay-court based game to grass and become the first Spanish winner of Wimbledon since 1966. Two and a half months after the Australian Open final, he arrived at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, a venue where he was unbeaten in seven years, and nobody, not even Djokovic, was going to change that. He duly snapped his losing run against the Belgrade native with a comprehensive 6-3, 6-1 victory in the final, which saw him win the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters for an unprecedented eighth time.

"It's very important to break that situation," said Nadal. "It's important to win a tournament another time. Especially [this] tournament. [Breaking] that situation [and] winning a Masters 1000, one of my favourites, [makes] everything perfect today."

With the monkey of his back, Nadal hit his stride on the dirt and followed up his success a few weeks later when he topped Djokovic once more, prevailing 7-5, 6-3 in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. "He is always the favourite, even if I win against him seven times; he is the best player in the world on this surface," said Djokovic, who had beaten Nadal a year earlier in the final at the Foro Italico.

Djokovic’s statement rang true in May when Nadal captured his seventh Roland Garros title at the expense of the Serb, winning 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 in a rain-delayed final that spanned two days. 

"For me, it is a real emotional day, winning another time here," said Nadal. "The important thing is to win Roland Garros even if it's the first, second, third, or seventh [time]. That's what makes me very happy. [I'm] very happy [with] the way that I played today, because I played much more aggressive."

It was quite the turnaround for Nadal, rebounding from seven straight losses against Djokovic to defeat the Serb three times in a row; albeit with Nadal’s season cruelly cut short by injury, there was no opportunity to see if Djokovic could reclaim the upperhand on grass or hard court. But with Nadal preparing to return to action at the start of 2013, down to No. 4 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after being usurped by Roger Federer and Andy Murray, tennis fans hopefully will not have long to wait for the resumption of this riveting rivalry.

Djokovic vs. Nadal: 2012 Meetings

Tournament Winner Score
Australian Open Final Djokovic 57 64 62 67(5) 75
Monte-Carlo Final Nadal 63 61
Rome Final Nadal 75 63
Roland Garros Final Nadal 64 63 26 75

Djokovic vs. Nadal: FedEx ATP Head 2 Head

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