Madrid Flashback: Novak Djokovic edges Rafael Nadal for first Caja Magica crown

The Madrid Open was the fourth Masters 1000 tournament on the ATP calendar in 2011, and Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal were the finalists for the third time. After winning the Davis Cup title at the end of 2010, Novak was ready to conquer the tennis world in the first half of the following season, winning the sixth title in Madrid and improving his perfect score to 32-0! Like in Indian Wells and Miami, Djokovic overpowered Rafael Nadal and lifted another Masters 1000 trophy. Novak defeated a great rival 7-5, 6-4 in grueling two hours and 18 minutes after mastering Rafa from the baseline with picture-perfect groundstrokes. Both players had to work hard in the semi-final encounters against Roger Federer and Thomaz Bellucci, doing enough to set another notable final after playing above all the others in the first five months of 2011. Novak made the difference with the first and second serve.

He controlled the scoreboard with a rock-solid display on the return, stealing almost half of the points in Rafa’s games and earning five breaks from 12 chances. The Spaniard delivered three breaks, and it was not enough to keep him safe and defend the title. Nadal stayed in touch with Djokovic in the shortest points. The Serb forged the advantage in the longer and more dynamic rallies, covering the court beautifully on both wings and engineering points more efficiently, especially in the closing stages of both sets. Hitting the ball on the rise, Novak played from inside the baseline as much as possible. He took time off Nadal’s strokes to break the opponent’s rhythm and impose his shots in the exchanges. Also, Djokovic’s balls had much more depth than Nadal’s, which forced the Spaniard to play from awkward positions and commit more errors. Novak held in the opening game after saving two break opportunities. In game two, he forced Rafa’s mistake to build up an early lead that gave him confidence.

Novak Djokovic claimed the first Madrid Open crown in 2011, beating Rafael Nadal.

A hold at love sent the Serb 3-0 up, and he rattled off 16 of the last 19 points to create three more break chances in game four with a backhand down the line winner. Nadal could not do much to stop the opponent’s march, falling 4-0 down after another forced error and standing powerless against the sheer velocity of Djokovic’s shots. The match was only 25 minutes old when the Spaniard started his comeback, breaking at 15 in game five after Novak’s double fault and making a quick hold with a service winner to reduce the deficit to 4-2. Djokovic recovered instantly and brought the seventh game home to extend the lead to 5-2 and put Nadal under even more significant pressure. Rafa did what he had to, holding at love in game eight with a service winner to prolong the set and force Djokovic to serve for it. Novak played a loose service game, and Rafa broke back with a forehand winner to get back to the positive side and serve for 5-5.

The Spaniard saved a set point with a service winner and another when Novak missed a forehand, with the third set point come and gone for Djokovic when he sprayed a backhand error. Rafa finally held with an unreturned serve, and the match was alive and kickin’ after precisely an hour. Novak swiftly left the previous game behind and held at love for a 6-5 lead after a booming serve. The Serb broke Rafa at love thanks to a lucky net cord to grab the opener 7-5 after 68 minutes. Rafa was there to compete and hit an outstanding tweener winner to earn three break chances at the beginning of the second set. He moved in front with a forehand down the line winner.

Novak broke back immediately with a backhand winner and forged the advantage when Nadal landed a backhand long in game three. The Spaniard saved a break opportunity to level the score at 2-2 and was on the level terms with Novak in the next couple of games to lock the score at 4-4. Every point became crucial at that stage, and Djokovic was the one who felt no pressure. He went 5-4 ahead with another backhand crosscourt stroke that forced Rafa’s mistake. The Spaniard served to stay in the match, and the Serb opened it with a couple of winners. Novak created three match points with a backhand bullet and converted the second when Rafa’s slice landed wide. Thus, Djokovic celebrated his first Madrid crown in what turned out to be one of the greatest Open era seasons that propelled him towards tennis immortals.