Rafael Nadal has played at the home Masters 1000 event in Madrid 18 times, scoring over 50 wins and securing five titles, four on clay at Caja Magica since 2009. Nadal’s fifth title came in 2017, and he has not played in the final in front of the home fans in the past three editions, losing to Alexander Zverev in straight sets this May. Asked about his most exciting match at the Madrid Masters, Nadal mentioned that thrilling clash against Novak Djokovic in the semi-final in 2009. Rafa had lost only three encounters that year before May and had to work hard to avoid the fourth in Madrid’s semi-final, prevailing over Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 in four hours and three minutes after saving three match points! It was the 19th straight victory for Nadal on clay in 2009 (150-4 since 2005) and his 27th victory in 28 ATP semi-finals on clay, overpowering the mighty opponent in one of the longest three-setters in the last couple of decades. The Serb was there to challenge Rafa in all three biggest tournaments during the clay swing.
Nadal had beaten him in the Monte Carlo and Rome finals, and Novak was ready to give his 120% and finally notch a win over the Spaniard on the slowest surface. Djokovic won five points more and played against only two break chances in the entire clash, with eight break opportunities up for grabs and two return games on his tally. Novak had more winners and fewer errors, beating Rafa in the most extended rallies but falling short in the deciding tie break to suffer one of the most heartbreaking defeats in a career. Nadal made a shaky start and hit a double fault in the second game to find himself 3-0 down. Djokovic had a massive advantage behind his serve and held with ease in game five to open a 4-1 gap. The Spaniard held after another deuce in game six and saved a set point at 2-5 with a forehand crosscourt winner to stay in touch and force Novak to serve for the set. Djokovic was in a powerful rhythm in his games and brought the set home with a hold at 15 after 50 minutes.
The Serb moved closer to the finish line with a break opportunity in the second set’s third game that Nadal repelled with a service winner to notch another significant hold and keep himself in contention. In the next five games, both players held with ease, and Rafa had to face an ultimate test at 4-4 when Novak created two break chances. Standing on the verge of defeat, Nadal blasted two service winners and brought the game home after another to stay ahead and open a 5-4 advantage. Djokovic had another break chance at 5-5, denied by Nadal’s good serve, who held after 11 minutes to hang in there.
Rafael Nadal needed over four hours to beat Novak Djokovic in Madrid 2009.
Novak had to play against the very first break chance at 5-6 (two hours and 12 minutes since the beginning of the match) and saved it with a backhand down the line that forced Rafa’s error and set a tie break where the pressure was on his opponent. With his back pushed against the wall, Nadal delivered his most excellent tennis in the tie break, taking every point on serve and scoring a mini-break at 3-2 with a forehand winner. The home favorite blasted a service winner to grab the breaker 7-5 and send the encounter into a decider after almost two and a half hours of incredible battle! The Serb kept fighting and created two break opportunities in the final set’s game four, converting the second with a forehand winner to build a 3-1 lead and move closer to the finish line. Rafa broke back immediately to reduce the deficit when Novak missed a forehand and hit a forehand down the line winner in game six to level the score at 3-3.
Nadal overwhelmed the danger in game eight and held after deuce at 5-6 to set up a deciding tie break, the best way to decide the winner of this great clash of titans. Novak forced Rafa’s backhand error at 5-5 to earn the first match point and had his chances to seal the deal before Nadal landed a forehand down the line winner to prolong the action. Djokovic produced another match point after a grueling rally, and Nadal erased it with another forehand winner to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard. Novak fended off a match point at 7-8 with a forehand winner, and a service winner offered the third match point for him at 9-8, hoping for that one last push that would carry him over the top. Rafa repelled it with a service winner and cracked a forehand down the line winner to earn his second match point at 10-9, building momentum in the encounter’s decisive moments. He forced Novak’s error in that 18th point to seal the deal and celebrate one of the most significant victories ever in front of the partisan crowd that helped him pass one of the most challenging obstacles he ever faced on his beloved surface.