- ATP Tour
Untroubled Djokovic sets up Nadal final
Rafael Nadal is back in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters - looking for an incredible ninth straight title - after he overcame a late wobble to dispose of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Saturday, and will face Novak Djokovic in the final after the world No. 1 defeated Fabio Fognini in straight sets.
Nadal had been forced to come through an almighty scare in the previous round against Grigor Dimitrov, after which he confessed his intensity is still lacking. That area of his game was certainly not a problem against Tsonga, who exited the tournament 6-3 7-6(3) despite fighting back from 5-1 down in the second.
The Frenchman had a damning statistic to deal with in order to get his pre-match mindset correct, having never beaten a top-five player on clay in seven attempts. This was his first Masters 1000 semi-final on the red dirt, and he came with a clear gameplan.
Holding to love in the opening game, Tsonga made a concerted effort to loop the ball deep to his rival, forcing Nadal to apply all the pace. It appeared to be working when three break points came the sixth seed's way in game four, but Nadal saved all three after one Tsonga forehand drifted millimetres outside the court.
It proved a turning point. Nadal quickly fashioned his first break chances of the match in the next game and another wayward Tsonga forehand handed him the advantage.
There was a look of resignation on Tsonga's face, hinting that he had placed great importance on leading from the front against the clay King, and more problems arrived when serving to stay in the set at 3-5. The forehand misfired up the line once again for the Frenchman, Nadal breaking to love to hand him the serve at the start of the second.
It was a monumental task now facing Tsonga, who was competing against a man unbeaten in 45 matches in Monaco. Nadal has only lost seven sets at the tournament since winning his first Monte Carlo title in 2005, and his record in ATP Tour semi-finals is almost impeccable.
Yet another poor forehand from Tsonga gifted Nadal a 2-0 lead at the start of the second, and victory was soon to follow. The Spaniard was in sparkling form, clipping endless winners up the line, one such shot giving him his fourth break of the match.
Serving for the match at 5-1 the former world No. 1 did experience a rather giant hiccup when Tsonga penetrated his serve twice to get back to 5-4. A tiebreaker ensued with Tsonga roared on by the crowd, but Nadal produced a sublime running forehand down the line at 3-3 to swing it decisively in his favour.
Novak Djokovic overcame a struggling Fabio Fognini 6-2 6-1 to reach the Monte Carlo Masters final for the third time in his career.
Fognini was twice treated by the trainer for a problem with his leg, and 25-year-old Djokovic took full advantage as he raced through to take the first set with minimal fuss.
Unseeded Fognini continued to struggle throughout the second, which became a procession for first-seed Djokovic as the Italian was restricted in his court movement.
Appearing in his 34th career ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, Djokovic proved too much for his opponent and cruised to victory in less than an hour on court, taking the second 6-1 to set up a final with Nadal.