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 at the top. Nadal conquered a “Channel Slam” in Paris and London to gather momentum before winning the Masters 1000 crown in Toronto to extend his streak. After 32 straight wins, Rafa lost in the Cincinnati semi-final to Novak Djokovic, and they were among the favorites at the Beijing Olympics a few weeks later. Rafa took down Potito Starace, Lleyton Hewitt, Igor Andreev and Jurgen Melzer to find himself in the semi-final of the Olympic event, facing another debutant Novak Djokovic in a battle for the final. It was their 14th meeting on the Tour within 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.
Thanks to that second set, Novak claimed four points more than Rafa, but it wasn’t enough to carry him over the top, as Nadal prevailed with a late break in the decider. Djokovic had more winners and more unforced errors, staying in touch with Rafa in the shortest range up to four strokes and beating him in the more extended rallies, which also wasn’t enough.
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 when Djokovic hit a 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 4-5. Serving for the set for the second time, Rafa held at 30 to claim the opener and gather a boost.
Raising his level, Novak opened a 3-0 advantage in the second set and fired a service winner in game five to remain in front. The Serb earned another break with a backhand winner at the net and clinched the set with a backhand down the line winner in game seven for 6-1 and momentum ahead of the final set. 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 stay in touch. The Serb fended off the first match point before Nadal converted the second following a terrible smash from Novak to celebrate a massive victory and advance into the gold medal match.