MONACO — Seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal will try to beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time in eight finals when they meet in the Monte Carlo Masters final today.
Nadal advanced to the final without dropping a set in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Gilles Simon, while Djokovic rallied from a set down to beat Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and reach his second final at Monte Carlo.
“He’s the best ever in history of the sport on this surface. It’s an ultimate challenge,” Djokovic said. “I cannot have ups and downs. I cannot afford that against Rafa. But why not believe that I can win?”
Djokovic has beaten the Spaniard in seven consecutive finals, including the recent Australian Open, and handed Nadal his only two defeats on clay last year.
“I have everything to win. That’s the only positive thing about losing seven times,” Nadal said. “The next matches, you only have to win.”
Nadal had not played for three weeks until the tournament after resting his troublesome left knee.
“Don’t forget that few weeks ago, I didn’t know if I will be here playing or not,” he said. “The match will be a fantastic test for me, and I have to play aggressive.”
With the Monte Carlo court among the slowest on the clay circuit, the conditions suit Nadal. However, he thinks that working his way back to full fitness, along with Djokovic’s recent record against him, means the Serb is the favorite.
“Seriously, I (would) like to play this match a few weeks later,” Nadal said. “When one player beats another one seven times in a row (on) clay, hard, and grass, is very easy to decide the favorite.”
Overall, Nadal leads their head-to-heads 16-14 but has not won since a group-stage match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London. Nadal has not lost in Monte Carlo since 2003 — he was injured the following year — and has won 41 consecutive matches in Monaco.
FED CUP: In Kharkiv, Ukraine, Serena Williams overpowered Ukrainian teenager Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-1 to give the United States a 2-0 lead in the Fed Cup playoff series.
In the opening match, American Christina McHale defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 on clay at the Superior Golf and Spa Resort.
The U.S. needs one victory among the reverse singles and doubles today to return to the top tier of the Fed Cup group. Williams could seal the U.S. place in the world group with a victory over Tsurenko today.
Americans Liezel Huber and Sloane Stephens will face Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiya Kichenok in doubles.