World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is the last man standing between king of clay Rafael Nadal and an incredible eighth straight title at the Monte Carlo Masters.
The top-ranked Serb, playing last week despite his beloved grandfather’s death, has won the last seven matches with the Spanish ace — all of them finals at major events — but trails 14-16 in their head-to-head series.
Djokovic reached his second Monte Carlo final, having lost one to Nadal in 2009, when he overcame Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Nadal kept a victory run at Monte Carlo dating to 2005 alive as he won a 41st match on the trot at the event, defeating French ninth-seeded crowd favorite Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic has improved his form after playing three matches while grieving, but said he was fully prepared for a battle yesterday in the principality.
Nadal, the winner of the last seven editions, and who last lost a Monte Carlo match in 2003, has gone through the week without dropping a set, even as he tested a left knee that required two weeks of treatment earlier this month.
Nadal said he was pleased to be contending after his two weeks of treatment.
“I have much less to lose than him, I have everything to win,” the optimistic holder said. “That’s the most important thing.”
Nadal called his eighth consecutive final in the principality “a perfect way to start the clay court season.”
Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated fellow former French Open champion Ana Ivanovic 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 to pull four-time champions Russia level with Serbia in their Fed Cup semi-final in Moscow.
Ivanovic went into the rubber leading her opponent 6-2 in previous encounters, but crucially it was Kuznetsova who won their only Fed Cup match-up in 2010 and her liking for the tournament continued on Saturday.
The winner of the semi-final will likely face holders Czech Republic in November’s final after the Czechs opened a 2-0 lead over Italy in Ostrava, the Czech Republic.
Jelena Jankovic had beaten Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-3 earlier on Saturday to put Serbia 1-0 up.
Lucie Safarova and Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova handed holders Czech Republic a 2-0 lead over Italy in their semi-final. Safarova, the world No. 23, beat 12th-ranked Francesca Schiavone, the former French Open winner, 7-6 (7/3), 6-1 before world No. 3 Kvitova saw off Sara Errani 6-4, 6-3.
The Czechs beat Russia 3-2 in Moscow in November last year to win their first Fed Cup trophy since their country split with Slovakia in 1993.
In the World Group play-offs, where the winners will play in the elite division next season, the US took a 2-0 lead over Ukraine, Japan led Belgium 2-0, Spain and Slovakia were locked at 1-1, while Australia opened a 2-0 lead over Germany.
In Kharkiv, 13-time Grand Slam title winner Serena Williams, playing a Fed Cup tie on foreign soil for the first time since 1999, eased past 17-year-old Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-1.