Nadal-Djokovic Rivalry: What the 2012 Monte Carlo Title Means for Rafa

Kevin PacelliCorrespondent IApril 22, 2012

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 22:  Rafael Nadal of Spain shakes hands with Novak Djokovic of Serbia at the net after his straight sets victory in the final during day eight of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters, at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 22, 2012 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco..  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ordinarily, winning a Monte Carlo title would be routine for Rafa Nadal, who has now taken the throne in each of the past eight seasons. This year, though, some may argue that the result was actually an upset.

As impressive as Nadal's winning streak of seven years was going into this year's Rolex Masters, Novak Djokovic's seven consecutive wins over the Spaniard was equally incredible. In what should have been a competitive and intense match, Nadal proceeded to collect his eighth straight Monte Carlo title with ease, taking it 6-3, 6-1 in just 78 minutes. One streak continued, while the other came to an abrupt end.

So what does this mean for the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry that has been dominated by the Serb for the past 12 months? One thing has become clear: Nadal isn't ready to back down.

Prior to this tournament, fans of Rafa worried that he simply wouldn't be able to find a solution to the Djokovic problem in 2012. Between being intimidated mentally and outplayed physically in each of their recent meetings, it seemed as though the former world No. 1 had simply met his superior.

It appears now that this isn't the case. 

Had Djokovic been able to pull off an emotional victory in the wake of his grandfather's passing, he would have been able to ride the momentum right on through to Madrid and Rome, where he stole the titles from under Rafa's nose last season. With a repeat of those two titles in 2012, his rival would then have lost their past five clay-court encounters going into Roland Garros.

Instead, Nadal is now fighting back with all the mental and physical strength that he can conjure up. This win in Monte Carlo was huge for Rafa's chances at winning the next clay tournaments of Madrid and Rome, which would consequently give him much-needed confidence going into the campaign for his seventh French Open title in May.

It is much too early to say that the tides are changing in this rivalry; after all, it was only one match, and it took place on Rafa's favorite surface. That doesn't take away from its importance for his mental game, though. Upon their next encounter, we can be sure that Rafa will be much more comfortable facing Djokovic across the net.

Was this match in Monte Carlo a fluke, or was it a sign that Nadal is as ready as ever to take on the French Open and the other remaining Slams of 2012? Either way, there's no denying that it was a step in the right direction for Rafa's goal of reclaiming the World No. 1 position.