Nadal strug­gles but sur­vives to face Djokovic in Monte Carlo

The China Post - - SPORTS - BY SCOTT WIL­LIAMS

No­vak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for a record 43rd time on Satur­day as the star pair battle for a spot in the fi­nal of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Nadal leads Djokovic 23-19 in the se­ries which be­gan nine years ago; the Spa­niard, now fifth in the ATP rank­ings, won their last meet­ing in the Roland Gar­ros fi­nal last June.

Top seed Djokovic crushed Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-3 in Fri­day’s quar­ter­fi­nal, while eight-time Monte Carlo win­ner Nadal, slowly build­ing up his form and con­fi­dence af­ter a rel­a­tively poor pre­vi­ous 12 months, fi­nally came through 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 against coun­try­man David Fer­rer.

Nadal, the third seed, strug­gled through in two and three-quar­ter hours af­ter fal­ter­ing when lead­ing by a set and 3-0.

“I was pleased with my level in this match,” Nadal said af­ter beat­ing Fer­rer for the 23rd time in 29 meet­ings — 20 of them played on clay.

“David played very well, stan­dard from both of us.

“The match with No­vak will be tough, he is so far ahead of the rest of the play­ers right now.”

Djokovic won the first eight games against Croa­tia’s reign­ing U.S. Open cham­pion who is seeded eighth but still com­ing back from months of shoul­der prob­lems.

“Phys­i­cally, it’s very de­mand­ing be­cause I’ve played a lot of matches,” said Djokovic. “But mo­men­tum is on my side.”

Should he win the ti­tle on Sun­day, Djokovic would be­come the first man to lift tro­phies at the open­ing three Masters 1000 tour­na­ments of the sea­son af­ter com­plet­ing the In­dian Wells-Miami ti­tle dou­ble.

“The first set went com­pletely my way. I knew he was go­ing to start to change some things in his game so he can start to play a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” said Djokovic.

“But I made a cru­cial break in the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond, as well. So the first eight games were re­ally fan­tas­tic. I tried to keep it up.

it was a high

“All in all, it was prob­a­bly the best match I’ve played so far in the tour­na­ment. That’s what I want, what I wish for in this mo­ment.

“Ob­vi­ously the amount of matches that I won this year has helped boost my con­fi­dence level, helped me to feel good at this tour­na­ment and con­tinue on with good per­for­mances.”

Un­charted Ter­ri­tory

Gael Mon­fils con­tin­ued into un­charted ter­ri­tory, with the French­man slug­ging Grigor Dim­itrov 6-1, 6-3 for a ca­reer-first semi­fi­nal in the prin­ci­pal­ity where he had never pre­vi­ously been past the third round.

The flam­boy­ant Mon­fils fol­lowed up on his sur­prise victory against Roger Fed­erer in the pre­vi­ous round while Bul­gar­ian ninth seed Dim­itrov came onto the clay as just a shadow of the player who knocked out holder Stan Wawrinka on Thurs­day with the loss of just three games.

“I’m just very happy,” said Mon­fils. “For sure I’m sur­prised be­cause this is not a pe­riod where I’ve played my best ten­nis so far.”

Mon­fils, lev­el­ling his ca­reer in Monaco to 8-8, will next take on To­mas Berdych, who ad­vanced into the fi­nal four as op­po­nent Mi­los Raonic re­tired with a right foot in­jury.

Mon­fils stands 1-5 against the sixth­seeded Czech, who won his 26th match of the sea­son when Raonic quit.

Sixth seed Berdych, now 2-3 against Raonic, spent just 31 min­utes on court against an op­po­nent car­ry­ing the ex­ist­ing hand­i­cap into the match.

Berdych has yet to drop a set this week and was in to­tal charge through his brief en­counter with Raonic, strik­ing 10 win­ners and break­ing twice.

Berdych will be play­ing in his 18th semi­fi­nal at the Masters 1000 level; he also played Monte Carlo semis in 2007 (lost to Nadal) and 2012 (lost to Djokovic).

“I’m in the semi­fi­nal, which is good. It’s pos­i­tive to me,” said Berdych, “But of course, it’s not the ideal way that you want to fin­ish the match.”

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