Rafael Nadal ended a seven-match losing streak to Novak Djokovic when he beat the Serb in the semi-finals of the recently concluded Madrid Open, which the Spaniard won after beating Dominic Thiem in the final. Toni Nadal likened the win to 'pulling a thorn out of their foot' owing to their recent record against the Serb.
Djokovic had established a strong hold on Nadal in recent years and was unbeaten against his long-time rival since his loss in the final of the French Open in 2014. It was the 50th meeting between the two and the Spaniard's win in the Spanish capital reduced the deficit to 24-26 in the head-to-head between the two.
Nadal struggled with lack of form and fitness in the last two seasons, and came up short every time he faced Djokovic, who was dominating the men's game during the same period. There has been a turnaround in 2017 with the former enjoying his best spell and the latter struggling for form.
The 14-time men's singles Grand Slam champion has made six finals, winning three titles thus far – he won in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid but had previously lost three finals in Australia, Miami and Acapulco. Djokovic, on the other hand, was making his first semi-final in four tournaments, but the senior Nadal made it clear that the strategy was to go all out right from the start and not give the world number two a chance to get into the game.
"Beating Djokovic is always basic. But this time especially, for us, to finally dominate him - it's super important', Toni Nadal told L'Equipe, as quoted by Tennis World USA. "We just pulled a damned thorn out of our foot. I think we got very close last year to ending this streak in Rome [7-5 7-6 loss in the quarters]."
"We were lacking a bit of success but also that conviction we've had, finally, since the beginning of the year. Playing slowly was out of the question because it was obvious that then, in this case, Djokovic would have put us in a hole. The idea, arriving on court, was to deliver the package on every shot."
Nadal's long-time coach and uncle also revealed that the reason for his nephew's resurgence was due to him implementing all their plans from the off-season. The nine-time French Open winner's recent form which has seen him win three back-to-back titles on clay has made him the favourite to add a 10th title in Roland Garros.
"When we ended the season [in 2016], we set in our mind a series of things, serving better, have a better attitude and being always competitive. He did it and so he is playing so well," Nadal's coach explained.
"Roland Garros? For us this tournament is special, and for Rafa winning it so many times was something unthinkable a few years ago. You always want to play your best tennis when the most important event comes."