Rafael Nadal was the second-strongest link on the Tour in 2005, 2006 and 2007, constantly improving his game and challenging Roger Federer for the ATP throne. The Spaniard shifted into a higher gear in 2008 to become world no. 1 in August, dethroning Roger after four and a half years and starting his reign. Nadal conquered a “Channel Slam” in Paris and London to gather momentum before winning the Masters 1000 crown in Toronto. Rafa lost the Cincinnati semi-final to Novak Djokovic after 32 consecutive wins, and they were among the favorites at the Beijing Olympics.
Rafa took down Potito Starace, Lleyton Hewitt, Igor Andreev and Jurgen Melzer to find himself in the semi-final of the Olympic event. He faced another debutant, Novak Djokovic, in a battle for the final and a medal. It was their 14th meeting on the Tour in the last two years, and Nadal beat Djokovic for the tenth timer following a 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 triumph in two hours and 11 minutes. Novak claimed four points more than Rafa thanks to that commanding second set. Still, it was not enough to carry him over the top, as Nadal prevailed with a late break in the decider. Djokovic had more winners and unforced errors, staying in touch with Rafa in the shortest range up to four strokes and beating him in the more extended rallies.
Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic in the Beijing Olympics semi-final.
Novak erased three break points in the opening game to avoid an early setback and held at 15 with an ace in game three to stay in front. The Spaniard grabbed a break at 2-2 with a forehand down the line winner and another at 4-2 after Djokovic’s double fault. The Serb pulled one break back in game eight with a forehand down the line winner and held at love to reduce the deficit to 5-4. Rafa served for the set for the second time in game ten and held at 30 to wrap up the opener. Novak raised his level in set number two and forged a 3-0 lead. Djokovic landed a service winner for 4-1 and grabbed another break in the next one with a backhand winner at the net.
The Serb served for the set at 5-1 and fired a backhand down the line winner for 6-1 and a boost ahead of the decider. Both players served well in the third set’s opening eight games, with more drama guaranteed in the rest of the clash. Nadal forced Djokovic’s mistake in the ninth game to move 5-4 up and survived Novak’s game point in the next one to prolong it. The Serb fended off the first match point before Nadal converted the second following Novak’s terrible smash to celebrate a massive victory and advance into the gold medal match.