DJOKOVIC: I CAN BEAT NADAL ON CLAY
Novak Djokovic may have been unable to end Rafael Nadal's amazing run of results at Monte Carlo but the Serb firmly believes he has the world number one's number on clay heading into next month's French Open.
Nadal claimed his fifth successive Monte Carlo Masters title with a 6-3 2-6 6-1 win over Djokovic in Sunday's final, and he continues to look unbeatable on his favoured surface.
However, world number three Djokovic produced what he felt was his best performance against the Spaniard on the dirt, bossing the second set and having break points early in the third before eventually caving in.
With the Roland Garros grand slam a month away, few would bet against Nadal making it five titles on the bounce there too but Djokovic reckons he has the weapons to dismantle the Mallorcan on clay.
"Playing him on this surface is in itself a true challenge to find the right tactics," the Serbian said, who slipped to a seventh successive defeat to Nadal on clay.
"But I really believe that one day I can beat him on this surface. I can do it.
"Because I have already produced solid matches against him on clay and now I really see how he plays.
"I will have to raise my level still further, as I did in the second set here."
Sunday's match panned out in a similar way to last year's meeting between the two players in Hamburg, when Nadal won 7-5 2-6 6-2.
That was the closest Djokovic had come to worrying Nadal on clay but he feels he took a step forward.
"I found that here I had more chances to win the match because the playing conditions were quicker and that is an advantage for me," he said.
"But once again, I didn't succeed in breaking him first in the third set, which would probably have changed things."
Nadal, for his part, made more mistakes than usual but was again not taken to the limit and ended up easing to victory in a one-sided finish to the match.
Since the 2005 event in Monte Carlo, he has won 124 of his 126 matches on clay but he did not feel this was one of his tougher matches, despite what Djokovic said to the contrary.
"I have already had difficult finals at Monte Carlo, against (Guillermo) Coria and (Roger) Federer. This hasn't been any harder," the Spaniard said.
"I had more difficulty at Hamburg last year against Djokovic."
Nadal has therefore made another flying start to the clay-court period of the season and he will look for further successes in Barcelona and Rome before returning for another tilt at the title at Roland Garros later in May.