MONTE CARLO (Reuters) - World number one Novak Djokovic will try to deal Rafael Nadal another blow when the world’s two top players clash in Sunday’s Monte Carlo Masters tennis final, where the Spaniard is chasing an eighth consecutive crown.
Nadal recorded his 41st win in a row in the season’s first big claycourt event as he defeated Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-3 6-4 in Saturday’s semi-finals, while the Serbian battled back from a set down to beat sixth-seeded Czech Tomas Berdych 4-6 6-3 6-2.
Djokovic has won their last seven encounters, which were all finals in grand slam or Masters events, including at the Madrid and Rome claycourt tournaments last year.
”My feeling is I have much less to lose than him,“ Nadal told a news conference. ”I have everything to win. That’s the only positive thing about losing seven times.
“Being in the final is fantastic news... Don’t forget that a few weeks ago I didn’t know if I would be here playing or not,” added the Spaniard, who had to pull out of last month’s Sony Ericsson Masters in Miami before his semi-final because of a knee injury.
Djokovic refused to regard himself as the favorite as Nadal is unbeaten since 2005 in the principality and has reached this year’s final without dropping a set.
“It’s an ultimate challenge,” Djokovic, who lost the 2009 final to the Spaniard, told reporters.
“I need to play well from the first to the last point. I cannot have ups and downs. I cannot afford that against Rafa. I‘m aware of that. But why not believe that I can win?”
Djokovic has been overcome by emotion at times since the death of his grandfather on Thursday and the top seed had to work hard to move past Berdych after two hours 42 minutes.
He wowed the packed crowd when he hit a backhand winner to wrap up the victory and advance to his 45th ATP Tour final.
On a sunny afternoon by the Mediterranean, where the players were distracted by gusty winds, Djokovic wasted an early break chance in the first set with uncharacteristic unforced errors.
Berdych relied on his powerful forehand, as he did in his quarter-final win over world number four Andy Murray, to clinch the opening set.
Djokovic raised his arms to the sky after holding on to his serve to take the hard-fought opening game of the second set.
He repeatedly screamed out loud and clenched his fists several times as he mounted his fightback, breaking early in the second set.
“That was the turning point probably,” Djokovic said. “After that I kind of tried to encourage myself and be positive on the court. There was a change of momentum I think when I made a break.”
A more aggressive Djokovic broke early in the third set and pushed Berdych into committing numerous mistakes, though the Czech mostly blamed the tough conditions.
“My game is to be much more aggressive, play a bit riskier than him... So when the wind starts to blow, then it takes the ball and I start to make mistakes,” Berdych said.
Nadal stuck to his typical aggressive style to upset Simon, the ninth seed, who lacked the cutting edge on the crucial points.
Though Simon had more break chances than Nadal, he did not manage to convert any while Nadal grabbed his first opportunity in each set to reach his 68th ATP final.
Editing by Clare Fallon