MADRID (Reuters) - A relentless Novak Djokovic dethroned clay king Rafa Nadal on the Spaniard’s home soil and maintained his extraordinary season when he stunned the world number one 7-5 6-4 to win the Madrid Masters title Sunday.
The Serbian second seed ground down the local favorite and defending champion during a succession of ferocious rallies to record his 32nd consecutive win of a defeat-free 2011, the best season start since John McEnroe’s 42-match streak in 1984.
The defeat marked Nadal’s first reverse on his beloved clay in 38 matches since he fell to Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open and denied him a third title on the red dirt in under a month after he won back-to-back at the Monte Carlo Masters and Barcelona Open in April.
Djokovic, who had never beaten Nadal on clay in nine previous attempts, now has six titles this year, including the Australian Open and the Masters in Indian Wells and Miami.
“First of all to Rafa bad luck today,” Djokovic said after collecting his winners trophy and 590,000 euros ($824,200) first prize. “It’s always a big challenge to play you, you are a great champion. Hopefully we can have many more matches.”
With the sliding roof open to the pale blue evening sky, one side of the futuristic Magic Box stadium was still bathed in sunshine when the match began.
A fired-up Djokovic came out on top in most of the lengthy exchanges in the early stages and surged into a 4-0 lead that prompted nervous mutterings among the home support in the packed, 12,500-capacity arena.
Ever the fighter, Nadal clawed his way back to 4-5 with two breaks and saved three Djokovic set points on his own serve to draw level at 5-5.
However, it was all in vain as the Serb held confidently and then broke Nadal for a third time to move a set ahead.
The Spaniard picked himself up and began the second set strongly, conjuring an incredible shot on the way to breaking Djokovic in the opening game.
After the Serb lifted the ball over Nadal’s head to the back of the court, he chased it down and played an audacious lob from between his legs and with his back to the net that looped over his opponent and landed just inside the baseline.
A bemused-looking Djokovic could only applaud as the crowd leapt to their feet as one.
Nadal indulged in some characteristic fist-pumping but the euphoria did not last long as he dropped his serve in the next game to make it 1-1.
With Real Madrid soccer players Cristiano Ronaldo and Iker Casillas watching from the stands, Real fan Nadal had to dig deep to stay in the match but was finally floored when he went wide with a sliced backhand after another mesmerising baseline rally on Djokovic’s second match point.
“Well done to you and your team. What you are doing this year is really unbelieveable,” Nadal said after picking up his runners-up trophy and cheque for 275,000 euros.
Editing by Martyn Herman