Nadal, Djokovic set up dream Monte Carlo final

AFP, Monaco

Mon, Apr 22, 2013 - Page 20

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic on Saturday set up their third Monte Carlo Masters final meeting, with the Serb top seed the last obstacle to the Spaniard’s pursuit of a ninth title.

Nadal is one win away from a record triumph at the Mediterranean venue and has already defeated world No. 1 Djokovic in the tournament in 2009 and last year.

Djokovic had a stress-free semi-final win over Italian Fabio Fognini, crushing the outsider 6-2, 6-1 in 52 minutes.

Earlier, Nadal survived a storming comeback attempt from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga before finally holding off the French sixth seed to win 6-3, 7-6 (7/3).

“I’m going to try to play my best match and try to get a chance to win the final,” said Nadal, who has now won 46 successive matches at the tournament. “He’s not the perfect opponent [for my game,] but if you don’t feel a special feeling when you are playing the final of Monte Carlo, you’d better go back home, play golf and go fishing.”

“He brings you to the limit of your game if you want to have chances to win. I know I have to play better than I did today and yesterday to try to win tomorrow. I have to play more aggressive, I’m gonna try,” he added.

Both finalists have made huge strides this week, with Djokovic playing better each day on an injured ankle and Nadal regaining his confidence on clay, a surface on which he has dominated for nearly a decade.

“I need to have a very optimistic mindset in order to get a win,” Djokovic said. “I’m not going out there to play my best; I’m going out there to win. That’s how I’m going to feel tomorrow. I’m very happy that physically, mentally, emotionally I have been improving as the tournament was going. Each day I feel better on the court, more confident.”

“I’ll have to be on top of my game, focused and motivated from the start to the end in order to have any chance of winning against Nadal,” he said. “I’ve played him so many times on clay. I know what I need to do. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but we can expect a good match.”

Nadal has the edge in meetings between the pair and won three of their four clashes last year.

Nadal, seeded third, but always the man to beat on the dirt, spent 96 minutes on court as Tsonga rallied from a set and 5-1 down, breaking the Spaniard twice, but failing in the second-set tiebreak that decided the dramatic contest.

Sealing victory on his fifth match point, Nadal takes his place in a fifth consecutive final since making his comeback in February after seven months out with knee problems.

The 26-year-old Spaniard stands one win away from an historic ninth straight trophy in the principality, where his solitary loss came in 2003 as a teenager.

The win was the second narrow escape in as many days for Nadal, who had to battle back from a set down to beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in their quarter-final.

FED CUP

AFP, DELRAY BEACH, Florida

World No. 1 Serena Williams cruised past Johanna Larson 6-2, 6-2 on Saturday to pull the US level with Sweden at 1-1 in their Fed Cup World Group playoff.

The visitors had taken a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five match tie when Sofia Arvidsson downed Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 on the outdoor hardcourt at Delray Beach Tennis Center.

Arvidsson blasted three aces, hammered 28 winners and won 63 percent of her first-serve points in the two-hour match.

Stephens, who is ranked 16th in the world, had five double faults, won just 40 percent of her second serves and made 74 unforced errors.

However, a rain delay before the second singles was the only thing that could slow Williams’ bid to get the tie back on level terms.

The reigning Wimbledon and US Open champion subdued Larsson in 66 minutes, extending her perfect record in Fed Cup singles to 9-0.

“I just try to fight and do the best I can,” said Williams, who blasted five aces and 31 winners and converted four of her five break chances. “I’m here for the team. Even though I don’t feel pressure, I’m here to give 100 percent. If I don’t feel 100 percent, I’m still going to try to give that.”

In yesterday’s reverse singles, Williams was to play Arvidsson and Stephens was to take on Larsson.

The fifth rubber was to be a doubles encounter with Arvidsson and Larsson teaming against the American tandem of Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko.

Serena and her former top-ranked sister Venus are playing Fed Cup together for the first time in 14 months.

The US team is trying to avoid relegation to World Group II after losing their first-round tie 3-2 to Italy in February.

A victory over Sweden would keep the Americans back in the World Group for next year.