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Most Dominant Big 3 Victories: Nadal def. Djokovic, Monte Carlo 2012

Rafael Nadal in action at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2012
As we wait for professional tennis to start up again, we here at LWOT are looking back on some historic matches, including some of the biggest blowouts involving the Big Three. Up next a look back at the 2012 Monte Carlo Masters final.

When looking for Rafael Nadal’s most dominant win over his rival Novak Djokovic, the obvious starting point was the clay. Nadal may trail Djokovic in their head-to-head, but he leads 17-7 on his favoured clay. On the terre battue, even Djokovic’s vaunted precision and power have rarely been enough to see him past the mighty Spaniard. But heading into the Monte Carlo Masters final in 2012, the Spaniard’s confidence may well have been shaken.

After all, he had faced Djokovic six times in 2011, all in finals and twice on the clay in Madrid and Rome. He had lost all six matches. Djokovic had then beaten Nadal again in the final at the Australian Open in early 2012, outlasting him after nearly six hours despite having been a break down in the decider. To make matters worse, Nadal had failed to make much of an impact during the Sunshine Double, losing to Federer in Indian Wells before withdrawing ahead of his semifinal in Miami with a knee injury.

Djokovic, in contrast, fell short in Indian Wells, but claimed another Masters 1000 title by beating Andy Murray in the final at the Miami Open. And his string of successes looked to be continuing on the clay in Monte Carlo, where he battled into the final with fine wins over Andreas Seppi, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Robin Haase and Tomas Berdych. For Nadal, on the dirt in one of his favourite hunting grounds, it was a must-win match.

The match

The opening exchanges suggested another long, physical battle between the two was on the cards. Djokovic came out of the blocks quickly, trying to control the baseline exchanges and keep Nadal on the move. At first, that appeared to be working well. But Nadal broke in the third game of the match and from there he strengthened his grip on the match. Having previously been too reluctant to take the initiative, in Monte Carlo Nadal played on the front foot and imposed his will on Djokovic.

His forehand was particularly impressive, full of bite and sting, with Djokovic left struggling to stay with the Spaniard in the cross-court exchanges. A hint of desperation crept into Djokovic’s game and he was broken again when he arrowed a backhand wide into the tramlines to hand Nadal the first set by six games to three. And whatever hopes Djokovic had of rallying in the second set were snatched away swiftly by Nadal, who went from strength to strength.

Djokovic landed some punishing blows, but Nadal was rock solid from the baseline and took almost every opportunity that presented itself. He also dominated on return, taking away Djokovic’s usual advantage from the line. Indeed, the Serbian failed to win a single point behind his first serve in the second set. And as Nadal stormed towards victory, Djokovic’s resistance began to break down, with Nadal sealing an emphatic victory with an ace, to his evident delight.

The aftermath

The match set the tone for the rest of the clay-court season. Nadal claimed titles in Barcelona, Rome and Paris, beating Djokovic at both the Italian and the French Open. He lost just once, in Madrid on the experimental blue clay, which he and several others publicly criticised and has not been seen since. Unfortunately for Nadal, his season came to premature end shortly afterwards, as he lost in the second round at Wimbledon to Lukas Rosol before spending the rest of the year on the sidelines battling knee tendinitis.

Djokovic, meanwhile, failed to secure another Grand Slam title in 2012 and lost his world #1 ranking to Federer in the wake of the Swiss’ triumph at Wimbledon. But despite also failing to defend his US Open title, where he lost to Murray in the final, he enjoyed a superb Asian Swing, winning titles in Beijing and Shanghai to all but reclaim the top spot in the rankings, and he ended the year by winning the ATP Finals. And he was to renew his rivalry with Nadal in the Monte Carlo final a year later, with a rather different result.

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