Novak Djokovic toppled a resurgent Rafael Nadal in straight sets on Saturday to reach the final at Indian Wells, where he’ll face Canada’s Milos Raonic in an attempt to win a third straight and record fifth overall title.
The 28-year-old world number one from Serbia was the heavy favourite coming into the joint ATP and WTA Tour event and he showed why as he dispatched long time rival and nine-time French Open champion Nadal 7-6 (5), 6-2.
“Today the first set was decided by just one or two points,” Djokovic said. “The second set was very close and I played the last three games very well.
“I am glad I overcame this challenge, which is one of the greatest in sport, playing against Rafa.”
Djokovic will improve to 22-1 this season if he beats Raonic, who beat Belgian David Goffin 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to enter his third final of a Masters 1000 tournament.
The women’s final is also on Sunday with Serena Williams vying for her first Indian Wells title since 2001 when she takes on former champion Victoria Azarenka.
Djokovic showed why he has been so dominant at Indian Wells, the hard court tournament in the California desert that he hopes this year will be a stepping stone to his first French Open title and a career Grand Slam.
Djokovic beat Roger Federer in three sets in the title match here the past two years, and now aims to surpass the record of four Indian Wells titles he shares with the Swiss.
Djokovic and Nadal have butted heads 48 times with Djokovic now holding a 25-23 edge, including winning 10 of the last 11.
“It could have gone either way but I managed to stay composed and serve well in important moments and just believed that I can win,” said Djokovic, who overcame an early break in the opening set.
Nadal, who will turn 30 in June, is also a multiple champion here having won three times in 2007, 2009 and 2013.
But the Spaniard had to work a lot harder to hold his serve for much of Saturday’s one hour, 58 minute match, spending almost twice as long as Djokovic in his service games.
Nevertheless Nadal’s solid Indian Wells effort allayed some of the fears raised by the 14-time Grand Slam champion’s first-round exit at the Australian Open.
“Today was closer than the last couple of times against the best player of world, so was a very positive week for me,” Nadal said.
Raonic finding answers
The 25-year-old Raonic stormed into his 17th career ATP final by overpowering Belgian 15th seed Goffin.
Raonic, who is going through a makeover under the tutelage of new coach Carlos Moya, blasted 10 aces to help counter 35 unforced errors.
“I lost my way a little in the second set, but in the third I stuck to my identity,” Raonic said.
Raonic roared through the first set in 34 minutes but struggled in the second with his serve as he tried to increase speed without sacrificing other components of his game.
“I feel even when I am not playing my best I am able to find the answers,” said Raonic.
“I am definitely able to play at a higher level this year and when a crisis occurs during a match I can find the solutions better.”
Raonic is going to have to find some answers against 11-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic, who has beaten him all five times they have met previously.
“Milos is probably playing the best tennis that he has ever played,” Djokovic said. “I think looking at his performances this year, winning in Brisbane, playing semis of Australian Open, and then coming back off injury and playing already in finals here, it’s quite impressive.
“His serve was phenomenal .... seems like he has improved even more, especially the second serve. He’s going for it more. He’s not giving you the same look.”