Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dethroned! Djokovic snaps Nadal’s clay court win streak in Madrid

One streak is over. Another continues onward.

Novak Djokovic snapped Rafael Nadal's 37-match clay court winning streak with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over the world No. 1 in the final of the Madrid Open. It was Nadal's first loss on the surface since he was upset by Robin Soderling in the 2009 French Open.

For Djokovic, the win continues his white-hot start to 2011. The Serb hasn't lost a match this year, a run of 32 straight matches. Counting the two matches he won for Serbia in the Davis Cup finals, Djokovic has won 34 straight since December.

The six-month run for Djokovic has included that Davis Cup, an Australian Open title, the difficult back-to-back at Indian Wells and Miami, and seven wins over players in the top five of the ATP rankings. But it was Sunday's win over Nadal, on the Spaniard's favorite surface in front of a partisan Madrid crowd, that may be the most impressive feat yet. Nadal entered the match with a 186-6 record on clay since 2005. He once won 81 straight on the surface. Djokovic was 0-9 lifetime against him on the red stuff. To win, and to do so in such convincing fashion, was the biggest sign yet that for the first time in years, the world's best player may not reside in Mallorca.

Not that this changes who the favorite will be when the French Open begins two weeks from Monday. Given the altitude of the city and the surface of the court, Madrid plays like a hard court when compared to the slow, plodding surface at Roland Garros. On that clay, Nadal still has an edge. He may need to change up the game plan after his tentative, baseline-heavy approach didn't work on Sunday, but he's still the man to beat in Paris.

No matter what happens this week in Rome, the Djokovic victory sets up one of the most-anticipated French Opens in recent memory. Can you imagine a final pitting Djokovic and his epic win streak against Nadal, in his pursuit of a record-tying sixth title?

Amanda Detmer Emma Stone Raquel Alessi Marisa Coughlan Shanna Moakler

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