Rafael Nadal was due to renew his epic rivalry with Roger Federer in the Hamburg Masters final yesterday after clinching a pulsating 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 win over Novak Djokovic on Saturday.
Yesterday’s final was to be the 16th time the world’s top two had met, but the Swiss star had only beaten the Spaniard once on clay.
In last year’s Hamburg final, he bounced back from losing the first set to win 2-6, 6-2, 6-0.
“I am looking forward to playing in Roger’s home,” quipped Nadal after Federer had earlier picked up his 22nd straight win in Hamburg to reach the final.
“He has won here four times and it is best clay court venue, he loves it here, it will be a very tough match,” Nadal said.
“Roger played a little over an hour of tennis today, while I played more than three, I just have to make sure I am 100 percent ready, because that is the level you have to reach to beat Roger,” he said.
Federer reached the final with a comfortable 6-3, 6-1 win over Italian journeyman Andreas Seppi.
Nadal has now only lost twice on clay in four years — in last year’s final and in Rome last week to compatriot Juan Carlos Ferrero when he was plagued by blisters.
The last of Nadal’s seven wins over Federer on clay came last month in Monte Carlo when the Swiss star went down 7-5, 7-5.
Saturday’s semi-final, with not only a place in the final at stake, but the world No. 2 ranking behind Federer up for grabs, was a titantic tussle between Nadal and Australian Open champion Djokovic, who won the Rome title last week.
“It was one of the best matches I have played, maybe the best I have ever played in on clay,” Djokovic said.
“I just want to take the positive things out of it. Nadal is the best defensive player in the history of the sport,” the Serb said.
Djokovic had never beaten Nadal on clay in their three previous meetings on the surface, but he romped into a 3-0 lead in the first set and was a point away from extending the gap until Nadal responded.
The Spaniard fought back brilliantly with plenty of aggression to take the first set 7-5.
Djokovic rallied to take the second set 6-2 having powered his way into a 4-2 lead with some superb forehands.
Nadal dug deep to seize a 5-2 lead in the third set but needed five match points before he took the decider 6-2 after three hours and two minutes.
“It was special game, because he played a very good game, he has improved incredibly and is getting better,” Nadal said. “He’s going to be world No. 1 within a few years, he’s very good and very young.”