Wimbledon.com examines another shift in the rivalry between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal...
It used to be Rafael Nadal who consistently achieved the impossible. The Mallorcan matador, the clay court commander, he was the one who shook off injuries, gruelling tussles, and forbidding opponents, only to always find what he needed to win. His most recent comeback from injury, his three-title tear through clay, clay and then the hard courts of Indian Wells, proved exactly that. But there is one who seems to be better than Nadal at achieving the impossible. Novak Djokovic.
The world No.1 had looked at one stage like he may never make it into a match of the Monte Carlo Country Club. With rumours of fractures and strains flying around the twittersphere at a Usain Bolt-esque pace, Djokovic's decision to play through the pain in the Davis Cup tie last weekend looked like it might seriously hamper his season. Admittedly, Monte Carlo is his place of residence, and so making the leap to compete was probably less arduous than if he had had to board a plane across continents. And thus, having taken the decision to give the ankle a go, he just got better and better.
Forced to endure several three-set matches along the way, by the time Djokovic arrived in the final, he looked, in Greg Rusedski's words, 'flawless.'
But across the net stood the man who has dominated Monte Carlo for the past eight years, who was aiming to add to that record with a ninth title. Nadal's journey to the final had not been easy either, forced to fight off the efforts of the precocious Grigor Dimitrov over three sets, and withstand a late charge from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, too.
And, on a 47-match-winning streak in Monte Carlo, it would require a supreme effort from Djokovic to upset Nadal's water bottles, metaphorically rather than literally this time, and claim the title.
But, in their first meeting since the 2012 French Open final, Serb produced exactly that.
Winning the first set 6-2 in 46 minutes, leaving Nadal muttering into his racket, Djokovic then recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the second set to win it 7-1 in the tie-break.
"I cannot ask for a better start to my clay season," he said. "I did not know if I was going to be a part of the tournament this year. I made a decision to play and, right now, it's the best decision of my life."
Ever the rueful runner-up, Nadal replied, "Congratulations Novak, what you're doing is just amazing. Congratulations to you for winning my favourite tournament."
For the tennis fan, this rivalry between the two most intense competitors in the sport has taken another twist. From Djokovic's dominance over Nadal on clay in 2011, to Nadal's over Djokovic in 2012, could 2013 be the year that it takes another shift, and results in a first French Open title for the Serb? He's proved once again that the impossible is not impossible, even with the best clay courter in the world in the mix.
On another clay court several time zones away from the Monte Carlo lull, Britain's Fed Cup team battled their way to a 3-1 defeat to Argentina in Buenos Aires in their World Group II play-off. There was no lack of effort from Judy Murray's team of Laura Robson, Johanna Konta, Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha, but utlimately Argentina's prowess on clay, and a boisterous if not numerous home crowd, made the difference.
In other Fed Cup results, Italy achieved a landmark 3-1 win over two-time champions the Czech Republic in Palermo to advance to October's final, while Russia narrowly defeated the Slovak Republic 3-2 in Moscow to reach the final.
In the World Group play-offs, Serena and Venus Williams combined to keep the USA in the World Group for 2014 with a 3-2 win over Sweden, Spain routed Japan 4-0, Australia survived a rain-delayed epic to defeat Switzerland 3-1, and Germany beat Serbia 3-2. The World Group II play-offs yielded wins for Poland over Belgium, France over Kazakhstan, and Canada over Ukraine, all of whom join Argentina in the World Group II for 2014.