• What the Deuce

Djokovic's loss overshadows real Rafa's Monaco reign

Jo Carter April 24, 2012

It was perhaps fitting that Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic at the eighth attempt to win his eighth Monte Carlo Masters crown.

In the end, it was a relatively straightforward victory as the Spaniard claimed a 6-3 6-1 victory to end a run of seven straight defeats against the world No. 1.

For any player to win eight consecutive titles at the same ATP Tour event is remarkable, that it was a Masters 1000 event makes it even more so. But as personal tragedy (rightly) puts sport into perspective, Nadal's achievement was overshadowed by Djokovic's loss.

The fact that Djokovic was still playing in Monte Carlo was impressive. He learnt of the death of his grandfather Vladimir on Thursday while warming up for his third round match against Alexandr Dolgopolov.

He was particularly close to his grandfather - during the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, Djokovic and his family hid in the basement of his grandfather's apartment.

If a footballer had recently suffered a bereavement, it would not be surprising for him to be left out of the squad for 'personal reasons'. Had Djokovic decided to withdraw from the competition and return to Serbia for his grandfather's funeral on Saturday, it would have completely understandable.

Still raw with emotion, Djokovic soldiered past Dolgopolov, looking skyward before leaving the court in tears. Understandably he opted to skip his post-match press conference, and his participation in the event remained uncertain.

But he opted to play on, successfully navigating his way past Robin Haase on Friday, before coming up against a confident Tomas Berdych, who had just knocked out Andy Murray in the semi-finals. When Djokovic lost the opening set, he looked a beaten man. But as we have come to expect over the last 12 months, he stepped it up a gear and got the job done.

Djokovic played on in Monte Carlo despite the death of his grandfather last week © Getty Images
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Against Nadal, Djokovic admitted he didn't have that extra gear - he was exhausted mentally and emotionally.

"I definitely don't want to take away anything from Rafa's win. He was a better player," Djokovic said. "But it's a fact that I just didn't have any emotional energy left in me.

"It was a bad day. I just wasn't there. I've never been caught up in this kind of emotional situation before. It's been a very difficult week for me to go through mentally. I won three matches since the news. I think I did pretty well."

Nadal now heads to Spain for the defence of his Barcelona Open title, while Djokovic will return home to Belgrade to visit his grandfather's grave.

While the fact that Djokovic was not at his best will have taken some of the sheen off his victory, it will be a huge confidence boost for Nadal to end a seven-match losing streak against the world No. 1. It was his first win over Djokovic since the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals in London, having lost three consecutive grand slam finals against the Serb.

As Nadal ramps up his preparations for the defence of his French Open crown, a win against Djokovic, under any circumstances, was vital.

"Winning against Novak in the final after losing a few ones is important for me. My level of tennis was high during the last four matches," Nadal said.

"Yes, Djokovic wasn't the real best Djokovic. In other finals that I played against him, I wasn't my real best, too. But the real best are both. My real best is when I play well and when I play bad.

"The real Rafa is not only when I play my best. The real Rafa is when I play well, when I don't play that well. If I take that for myself, it has to be the same for others. Sometimes you play fantastic, sometimes you play normal, sometimes you play worst."

Despite a recent injury scare, it seems the real Rafa is back - or at least approaching his best. Djokovic's dip is likely to be a temporary one, so let's hope we get the best of both players in their next clash.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk