By Richard Martin
MADRID (Reuters) – A red hot Rafael Nadal ended a seven-match losing streak against Novak Djokovic in emphatic fashion by thrashing the world number two 6-2 6-4 on Saturday to reach the final of the Madrid Open and move within a step of a third consecutive claycourt title.
The Spaniard will be aiming for a fifth Madrid title when he meets Austrian Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s showpiece. World number nine Thiem beat Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas 6-4 6-4 in the other semi-final.
Nadal got off to a dream start in the 50th meeting between the two great rivals, winning every point in the first game to break Djokovic, with the home crowd wildly celebrating his first point – a potent return which the Serbian could only hit into the ground.
Djokovic won the last meeting between the pair in the quarter-finals of the Rome Masters a year ago, and Nadal had not beaten the 12-times grand slam winner since the 2014 French Open final.
“The circumstances nowadays are completely different compared to those seven matches that occurred before. The last two years perhaps haven’t been my best two years. They were really good years for Novak,” Nadal told a news conference.
However, the Spaniard added: “It’s one more match. What’s important to me is to make it to another final.
“As years go by, depending on the type of victories, (they) can fulfill you a little bit more or less. The most important thing is the titles, not the opponents that you have beaten.”
Defending champion Djokovic, who cut ties with long-time coach Marian Vajda and his staff the week before the tournament in a bid to reverse his downward trajectory of results, surrendered his serve again in the third game, and Nadal held to go 4-0 up.
Real Madrid greats Raul and Cristiano Ronaldo were among those watching in the stands in the Caja Majica on a scorching day in the Spanish capital as Nadal continued his rampant start to the year.
The Spaniard finished off the first set in 40 minutes and again broke the struggling Djokovic in the opening game of the second. The world number two broke back in the fourth to tie the set at 2-2 and celebrated by punching the air.
It proved to be just a brief respite for the Serbian, however, as Nadal broke him again in the next game and held to restore his two-game lead.
He missed two match points on his serve and then had to save a break point before taking the contest at the third time of asking to reach the Madrid final for the eighth time.
On Sunday, Nadal will look to add to his recent triumphs in the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open.
Djokovic said he was encouraged by his performance.
“It was really good to play in the semi-finals of a big event, and to play against one of the top rivals I have in my life. I haven’t had that feeling in months, so it’s great to feel that,” Djokovic said.
“It was a positive week, a positive experience. I take, as I say, more positives than negatives into the next week in Rome.”
(Reporting by Richard Martin,; Editing by Neville Dalton and Pritha Sarkar)