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By Erik Gudris | Saturday, April 18, 2015

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic finds himself a win away from claiming his third straight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title of the season after defeating Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo semifinals.

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The highly anticipated 43rd career meeting was the pair's first this season having met last year in the French Open finals. Despite Nadal being an eight-time champion of the event, he entered this match not as the customary favorite on his best surface.

That was due to Djokovic's continuing dominance so far this season and with Nadal slowly trying to find his best form this year. With Nadal having clawed his way past David Ferrer in a lengthy quarterfinal, some wondered what the Spaniard would have left against the No. 1.

The answer was plenty. Nadal started strong with several massive forehands that showed he was ready to force the issue early. That aggression from Nadal allowed him to break Djokovic in his opening service game.

Djokovic, fighting off another break point against him, finally got on the scoreboard but still found himself behind 2-1. The next game saw Djokovic execute a perfect drop shot followed by a pinpoint lob to give him break point. Nadal netted a forehand and with that the set was square at 2-all.

Once again Djokovic found himself battling to hold serve in the seventh game that proved to be a key moment of the match. Running over 10 minutes, both men raised their level in the game and produced several incredible exchanges mixing power with touch.

Facing a break point, Djokovic produced another fine drop shot to set up a winning smash. Nadal took him one better a few points later by winning this spirited exchange at deuce.

But Djokovic, once again with a perfect drop shot winner, finally closed out the game with a forehand winner for 4-3.

Nadal's forehand let him down when he needed it in the next game as errors from that wing allowed Djokovic to secure a break for 5-3. Djokovic then served out the set with a potent serve out wide on his third set point.

The second set had Nadal immediately up against it as he faced early break points on his serve. Nadal's defense allowed him to get out of trouble and hold while Djokovic expressed frustration at not capitalizing on his opportunity.

Nadal and Djokovic stayed level with each other as neither could quite gain momentum. But once again the seventh game proved pivotal for both.

Nadal served himself to a 40-lead at 3-all and looked on the verge of an easy hold. Yet a bad forehand decision, followed by a double fault, then followed by a Djokovic return winner put the game at deuce. Again Nadal was forced to scramble with several remarkable gets to fend off break point.

Nadal couldn't close out the game and again his forehand would let him down. He netted one to give Djokovic another break point. An errant forehand struck well wide from Nadal then handed Djokovic the break for 4-3.

Djokovic enjoyed an easy hold for 5-3 and then put immediate pressure back on Nadal. Serving to stay in the match. Nadal struck another forehand wide giving Djokovic a match point. A deft drop shot approach from Nadal allowed him to put a volley winner just inside the baseline sending things back to deuce. But Djokovic ripped a big return giving him another match point.

Not wanting to waste any more time, Djokovic struck a final backhand winner to complete the 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Djokovic struck 23 winners and 19 unforced errors while Nadal hit 20 winners and 23 unforced.

The top seed now will go after his second Monte Carlo title in Sunday's final against Tomas Berdych. Djokovic leads the head to head against the Czech 18-2.

(Photo Credit: AP)


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