Rafael Nadal recorded a first win over Novak Djokovic since 2014 to book his place in the Madrid Open final with a 6-2 6-4 victory.
Meeting for the 50th time, the Spaniard had lost his previous seven meetings with Djokovic but continued his brilliant clay-court season to record a 14th successive win on the surface with his first triumph over the Serb since the 2014 French Open.
Nadal made a fast start to claim the first set with little trouble, and despite an improved showing from Djokovic in the second, it was the Spaniard who claimed the win and a place in Sunday’s final against Dominic Thiem, who beat Pablo Cuevas 6-4 6-4 in Saturday’s second semi-final.
Djokovic showed flashes of his best but, in just his second semi-final of the year, he was unable to break through a fierce Nadal serve and the Spaniard, who leads the year’s Race to London standings, will now look to add to the titles he has claimed in Monte Carlo and Barcelona over the last few weeks.
With Friday’s rain relenting, the roof open and the sun beating down on the Caja Magica, there were plenty of stars in attendance and Real Madrid fan Nadal will have been pleased to see Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Raul watching on.
The Spaniard started quickly, climbing all over the Djokovic serve to break in the opening game of the match, and he followed up with another break which he consolidated to lead the first set 4-0 with barely twenty minutes on the clock.
Djokovic, seeking a second title of the year, struggled to find his range and it wasn’t until the fifth game of the match that Djokovic showed any kind of authority.
Even then, having opened up a 40-0 lead, he allowed Nadal back into the game before eventually getting himself on the scoreboard with a simple forehand winner.
With Djokovic beginning to open his shoulders a little more, Nadal turned to his improved serve to keep him in control while continuing to trouble the Serb on his own serve.
A brilliant Nadal point sealed the first set, ending Djokovic’s run of 15 successive sets in matches with the Spaniard.
With Djokovic having the honour in the second set, Nadal pounced early again to break in the opening game and conjuring forehand winners from all areas of the court looking to be cruising into Sunday’s final.
But Djokovic had other ideas and forced a first break point of the match in the 12th game and – showing the ruthlessness of old – struck at the first opportunity to level the set at 2-2.
However, Nadal has been in ruthless form on his favoured red dirt and was not to be outdone, breaking back immediately for an advantage he would not give up.
The pair traded blows as the standard went up a couple of notches for the closing games, but unlike the past two years it was Nadal bossing the pivotal moments and, a year to the day since their last meeting in Rome when Djokovic emerged victorious in straight sets, it was his Spanish rival who stood on the brink of victory.
Having seen two match points go begging, Nadal produced his very best to save a break point before eventually closing out his second win against Djokovic since the 2013 US Open, and his first straight sets triumph since the 2012 Monte Carlo final.
Later on Saturday evening Austrian star Thiem set up a repeat of the Barcelona Open final against Nadal when he beat Cuevas with little fuss.
Both men were bidding for a place in a 1000-level final for the first time in their career and it was world no 9 Thiem who came out on top, needing just an hour and 23 minutes to beat the Uruguayan.
Nadal won 6-4 6-1 in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago but Thiem does have a clay-court victory over the in-form Spaniard to his name, winning the Buenos Aries semi-final in three sets in 2016.
POINT OF THE MATCH
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