MONACO — Novak Djokovic will have a crack at toppling Rafael Nadal in the Monte Carlo Masters final for a second straight year.
Despite their respective injury concerns, they will meet for the 16th time in a championship. Nadal leads 8-7 in their finals.
“I am not the kind of player who is stupid and says, ‘I want to play against the best,’” Nadal said joking, added he would rather face an easier opponent today.
Nadal can improve upon his formidable record on the Monte Carlo red clay — winner of the last eight titles and 46 consecutive match victories. He defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the semifinals on Saturday to set up a rematch with Djokovic.
The Spaniard has reached five successive finals since returning from a seven-month layoff for a left knee injury. He will go for his fourth title of the season against Djokovic, who cruised past unseeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-2, 6-1.
The No. 1 player showed no sign his right ankle was bothering him, two weeks after twisting it during a Davis Cup match against the United States.
“At the start of the week, the way I felt in the first match, if somebody told me I’d be playing finals, I’d be very happy to hear that,” Djokovic said. “I’m handling it much better than I was at the start of the week. It has been improving and the pain has been decreasing. It’s much, much less than before.”
Djokovic and Nadal have not played against each other since last year’s French Open final, which Nadal won. He has won their last three encounters, after Djokovic took the previous seven — all of which were tournament finals. Nadal leads their head-to-head contests 19-14.
“I need to have a very optimistic mindset,” Djokovic said. “I’m not going out there to play my best; I’m going out there to win. That’s how I’m going to feel tomorrow.”
Nadal has been on a winning roll at Monte Carlo since 2005. His last loss here was to former French Open champ Guillermo Coria in 2003, and he missed the following year because of injury.
He insists he’s still some way from full fitness, despite dropping only one set so far.
“I know I need time to be 100 percent fit,” said Nadal, adding he thinks Djokovic’s injury was tame by comparison. “He stopped for, what, a few days for his ankle?”
Their finals have gone in cycles: Nadal won the first five; Djokovic the next seven; Nadal the following three.
Serena pulls U.S. even in Fed Cup
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — Serena Williams evened the United States’ Fed Cup World Group playoff match against Sweden, waiting out a long rain delay to beat Johanna Larsson 6-2, 6-2.
In the opening match, Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson beat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
The top-ranked Williams finished off the 66th-ranked Larsson in 66 minutes under the lights.
The winner of the playoff is rewarded with a spot in the 2014 Fed Cup World Group competition. The losing team will play in 2014 World Group II action.
Today, the teams will play the reverse singles matches and doubles with Varvara Lepchenko and Venus Williams scheduled to face Arvidsson and Larsson in the fifth match of the weekend.