Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Final 2012: Keys for Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
Top-ranked men's tennis stars Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have both punched their ticket to Sunday's final of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters tournament with impressive semifinal wins over Tomas Berdych and Gilles Simon respectively.
Djokovic stumbled early but outlasted Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Meanwhile, Nadal won his seventh and eighth straight set of the tournament, beating Simon 6-3, 6-4 to advance to the tournament final for the eighth consecutive time.
Join Bleacher Report as we take a look at some important keys for both players in Sunday's much-anticipated showdown in Monaco.
Rafa Must Start Fast and Strong
Rafa has won each of his first sets in Monaco this week and will need to keep that streak alive against the world's No. 1 if he is to win his eighth consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Djokovic has dropped two of his four first sets, proving he is in fact human and vulnerable to a slow start on Sunday.
Nadal topped Djokovic in the first set of the 2012 Australian Open final, 7-5, before losing two-straight. It can be done and if Rafa can pull it off, he'll be one winning-set away from history and his first victory over the Serbian since 2010.
Rafa Must Win a Great Amount of Service Points
Rafa has been an assassin while serving at the Monte Carlo Masters this week. Nadal won 74 percent of his total service points in his quarterfinal win over Stanislas Wawrinka and a remarkable 82 percent in his third-round win over Mikhail Kukushkin.
Novak Djokovic won 62 percent of his total return points against quarterfinal opponent Robin Haase but only 40 percent against Alexandr Dolgopolov in the third round.
If Nadal can keep Djokovic on the run during his service games and remain the aggressor throughout, he will have the advantage on his beloved clay surface.
Rafa Must Rediscover His Swagger on Clay
Once upon a time, Rafael Nadal was an unbeatable force on the red stuff, but after a human-like 2011 effort on Europe's clay surfaces, Rafa is a more humbled challenger.
If Nadal is to edge his rival Novak Djokovic on Sunday, however, he will need to exude that old confidence and swagger that took him to the top of the world rankings in August 2008.
Rafa needs to be as animated as ever before to show Djokovic his knee is fine and that the Serbian will be in for a long match.
Djokovic is 7-5 against Nadal in tournament finals, so a more excited Rafa may be the key to renewed success.
Nole Must Continue to Stay Focused on Tennis
Djokovic was hit with horrible news this week that his 83-year-old grandfather had passed away.
He was slow to start in his first match after learning of his personal loss but ultimately overcame his opponent and grief to advance.
Although Nole's focus is likely in other places at a time like this, the energy he continues to put into his game will likely be his best coping strategy.
A win on Sunday could provide the world's No. 1 with a bit of closure and a fitting farewell to the man that taught him so much about how to play tennis.
Nole Must Get It to a Third Set
If Novak Djokovic can take Rafael Nadal to a third and final set on Sunday, then he will be the favorite to win the 2012 Monte Carlo Masters and not the clay king.
Djokovic has beaten Nadal the last seven times they have met, including two 2011 wins on clay. Nole is surely in Rafa's head and if the match stretches to its full lifespan, then the world's No. 1 will have the clear advantage.
Nadal's injured knee could also prove a legitimate problem for the Spaniard in his Monte Carlo title defense. The longer Djokovic holds on, the better his chances will become.
Nole Must Continue to Chase Down Points
There is no denying just how crushing it can be for an opponent when Novak Djokovic recovers to save an improbable point.
Though Rafa is just as capable of making an astonishing return worthy of SportsCenter's Top 10, the athleticism which Djokovic routinely demonstrates is unmatched by anyone else in the sport of tennis today.
Whether he is sliding across the baseline or smashing a forehand down the line, Djokovic is the best at breaking opponents' spirits with his hustle.
If he can find a few extra points in similar fashion against Nadal, he'll be on his way to starting the clay-court season off with a monumental win over the world's No. 2.
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