Novak Djokovic penned the opening chapter of his annual attempt to reshape the most familiar narrative in modern tennis with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters.
With Prince Albert of Monaco looking on, Djokovic used the first tournament of the European clay-court swing to lay down a fascinating marker for the weeks ahead. The world No 1 responded emphatically to an early break of serve by Nadal, claiming six of the next seven games and the opening skirmish of a war that will surely culminate at Roland Garros in June, where the Spaniard will be vying for a 10th French Open title.
The performance sustained a sparkling run of form by Djokovic that began with his eighth grand slam win at the Australian Open in February and has since carried him to Masters series titles in Indian Wells and Miami.
Nadal, meanwhile, who has endured a chequered season since his latest comeback from long-term injury, will seek solace in an encouraging return to the surface on which he has reigned supreme for the past decade.
Failure to add a ninth Monte Carlo title to his distinguished clay-court CV will be counterbalanced by a recognition that he is starting to resemble something like his old self.
Whether that will be enough against an opponent in such imperious form is a moot point. Djokovic has now gone 16 matches unbeaten and that run, his initial wobble notwithstanding, continued in impressive fashion against an opponent who has so often been his nemesis on clay.
The Serb will meet Tomas Berdych in Sunday’s final after the Czech sixth seed beat the resurgent Gael Monfils in straight sets.
Berdych, who has twice before fallen at the penultimate hurdle in Monte Carlo, reached the fourth ATP Masters final of his career with a characteristically dominant display. His 6-1, 6-4 victory dashed Monfils’ hopes of becoming the first Frenchman to win the title since Cedric Pioline in 2000.
“This year is going pretty well,” said Berdych, who reached the last four of the Australian Open earlier this year, and has progressed to the quarter-finals or better of every tournament he has contested in 2015.
“It’s going almost the way we set it up. We’re missing a trophy yet as a team and me personally, but it’s another chance tomorrow. I think I’m going to try to put myself in the best possible position to be ready for it.”
This article was written by Les Roopanarine, for theguardian.com on Saturday 18th April 2015 17.31 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010