Tennis: Novak Djokovic ends Rafael Nadal's epic run to fire French Open ambitions

Spaniard suffers first defeat at Monte Carlo in 10 years as world No 1 shows pedigree on clay

Rafael Nadal warned last week that "not everything is forever and everything in this life finishes one day". The end for the 26-year-old Spaniard came yesterday afternoon as Novak Djokovic's 6-2, 7-6 victory in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters brought to a conclusion one of the most remarkable winning sequences in sport.

Saddam Hussein was still on the run in Iraq and Facebook no more than a glimmer of an idea in Mark Zuckerberg's mind when Nadal last lost a match at the Monte Carlo Country Club. Nadal had claimed the title eight years in a row, winning 46 matches in succession at the historic venue, but in Djokovic he came up against an opponent who is also rewriting the record books.

In becoming the first player to beat Nadal three times in a clay-court final, Djokovic won his eighth different Masters Series title, with Cincinnati the only jewel missing from his crown. The win will also give the world No 1 renewed confidence that he can complete his set of Grand Slam titles at this year's French Open, another of Nadal's strongholds.

"What you are doing is just amazing," Nadal told Djokovic at the presentation ceremony. "Congratulations on winning my favourite tournament." Djokovic, who had lost to Nadal in two previous Monte Carlo finals, replied: "Thank you for allowing me to win here just once."

Nadal, nevertheless, is sure to put this defeat in perspective. The Spaniard, who had won his previous 81 clay-court matches played in April, returned to action little more than two months ago after a seven-month absence with a knee injury. His comeback has been more successful than he might have dared to hope: in five tournaments, he has won three titles and finished runner-up twice.

"I think I'm going in the right direction," Nadal said. "I've played five finals in a row. If you had told me that four months ago, I would be crying with joy. I'm just very happy to be able to play against the best players in the world again."

Nadal, who was also troubled by a back injury during the week, said he needed more matches under his belt to regain the relentless drive which has been one of his trademarks. He admitted that when he gets tired in matches he sometimes loses the intensity he used to bring to every point.

On this occasion, nevertheless, the most remarkable comeback from injury was Djokovic's. The 25-year-old Serb hurt his ankle playing in the Davis Cup a fortnight ago and made only a late decision to play in the year's opening clay-court event. Djokovic, who was desperate to play in what is now his home tournament, struggled with the injury in his first two matches but played better and better as the week progressed.

"I didn't know whether I was going to play in this tournament," Djokovic admitted after winning the 37th title of his career. "Right now it was the best decision of my life." He won by showing many of the qualities that you usually associate with his opponent.

His defence was breathtaking as he kept soaking up Nadal's best shots and then struck the ball with immense power whenever he had the chance to attack. In long rallies, especially on clay, you would usually back Nadal, but Djokovic won nearly twice as many exchanges over 10 strokes as the Spaniard.

For half an hour it had seemed that Nadal's reign would end with an abdication rather than a dethroning. Djokovic, timing the ball beautifully from the start, raced into a 5-0 lead – he said afterwards that he had never played better on clay than in that period – only for Nadal to save the first seven set points and restore some respectability to the scoreline.

Showing all his famed fighting spirit, Nadal was twice a break up in the second set, but on each occasion Djokovic fought back. His break to love when Nadal served at 6-5 was sensational, the Serb crashing three huge winners and forcing a mistake with a crunching return of serve. Djokovic dominated the tie-break, winning it 7-1 as Nadal quickly succumbed.

At the end Djokovic sank to his knees and kissed the surface of the court. "It's a very joyful moment for me," he said afterwards. "I wanted that trophy badly all my life."

Monte Carlo in numbers

16 The number of times Nadal has faced Djokovic in a championship decider; each has won eight

46 Matches in Nadal's winning streak in the tournament

2003 The last time Nadal was beaten at the Monte Carlo Masters

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice