Nadal Claims Emphatic Win To Book Madrid Final

Four-time Madrid champion downs Novak Djokovic in record 50th encounter

Rafael Nadal claimed an emphatic victory on Saturday over Novak Djokovic to book a spot in the Mutua Madrid Open final. The Spaniard turned in a masterclass performance in his home capital, securing a 6-2, 6-4 win over his longtime rival.

Meeting for an unprecedented 50th time in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, Nadal dented Djokovic's recent run of dominance, notching his first victory since the 2014 Roland Garros final. A hyper-aggressive Nadal refused to concede an inch from the baseline, firing 20 winners, including seven off his backhand wing.

The four-time Madrid champion improved to 14-0 in clay-court matches this season, advancing to the final at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event for the seventh time in nine years. He will look to add to titles won in 2005, 2010 and 2013-14 against Dominic Thiem on Sunday.

"What's important to me is to make it to another final," said Nadal. "As time goes by, what is important is the titles, not the opponents that you have beaten. It's just the titles that you have won. It's true that some matches are more important than others. But I'm just here to try to make it the best possible way, to play my best tennis, and of course to beat an opponent such as Novak, it gives you a lot of confidence. It shows you you're working in the right way.

"I think I played a really good first set. The second set I was a little bit more nervous. I played a little bit shorter. I think then the match was more even. Finally I managed to win it. It's a very important victory. It gives me the possibility to play another final and to continue in a positive line. I am happy the way I played today, being able to make it to the final once again. I'll try to be 100 per cent and ready for tomorrow's match."

Nadal, who moved to No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Race To London with a quarter-final win over David Goffin on Friday, will also bid to tie Djokovic atop the Masters 1000 titles leaderboard with his 30th crown.

"Rafa was obviously a better player today," Djokovic said. "He deserved to win. He was controlling the match from beginning to the end. All in all, I did try my best. It wasn't a very high quality of tennis from my side. I made a lot of unforced errors, especially in the first set.

"Just his quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted, especially in the first set. I was getting a lot of balls back. He was serving well. He was using his court positioning well. Today was warmer than last three, four days, so conditions were quite different. The ball was bouncing very high. He managed to be better in these kind of conditions."

Most Meetings In Open Era

Rivalry Encounters FedEx ATP Head2Head
Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal 50 Djokovic leads 26-24
Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer
45 Djokovic leads 23-22
Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal
37 Nadal leads 23-14
Novak Djokovic vs. Andy Murray 36
Djokovic leads 25-11
Ivan Lendl vs. John McEnroe 36 Lendl leads 21-15

Here is how Novak vs. Rafa No. 50 unfolded...

FIRST SET - Nadal 6-2
Looking to halt Djokovic's recent run of dominance in their rivalry, Nadal was eager to make an early statement on a sun-drenched afternoon at the Caja Magica. Striking the ball with authority from the baseline, he put the Serbian on his heels immediately and would claim a break to love in the first game with a return winner. 

Djokovic struggled to find his rhythm as the set progressed and would fall behind a second break following an error-strewn game. Nadal launched a pair of forehand winners to secure the break and consolidate for 4-0. He reeled off 17 of the first 20 points in total.

Four-time champion Nadal was one step ahead of Djokovic throughout the opener, using the warm conditions to his benefit as his kicking forehand soared off the clay. Drawing energy from the partisan Spanish crowd, the Manacor native streaked to a 6-2 first set. He would snap Djokovic's run of 15 consecutive sets won in their rivalry with a sublime drop shot winner, snatching the opener after 40 minutes.

SECOND SET - Nadal 6-4
The disparity in first-serve points proved to be the key stat, with the Spaniard claiming 86 per cent to the Serbian's 56 per cent in the first set. Nadal's ruthless run of form continued in the second, breaking immediately in the opening game.

Defending champion Djokovic drew level for 2-all, opening the court with his backhand and striking a short-angled forehand winner. But the momentum would remain in Nadal's corner, as the Spaniard broke right back in the next game and did not look back. Faster around the court, he had an answer for everything Djokovic sent his way.

With Real Madrid football star Cristiano Ronaldo and Olympic legend Nadia Comaneci looking on, Nadal closed out the victory on his third match point after one hour and 38 minutes.

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