Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten start to 2011 continued in Miami as he came from a set down to beat world number one Rafael Nadal in a thrilling final of the Sony Ericsson Open.

The Serbian won 4-6 6-3 7-6 (7/4) to pick up his 24th straight win this year, backing up his Indian Wells final win over Nadal a fortnight ago. After Nadal had bludgeoned his way to the first set, Djokovic’s defence improved in the second and, with a firm base to steady him, he began to work his durable opponent around the court more and more. He eventually ground him down in a third-set tie-break to pick up his fourth title of the year in three hours and 21 minutes. Djokovic went into the final having not lost his serve throughout the tournament, but did so in the first set as Nadal went ahead with a stunning backhand down the line. The Australian Open champion then had two break points of his own, but Nadal stayed in an incredible rally to save one and then Djokovic netted when coming in to cancel out the other, before Nadal saved a third to move 3-1 up.

A howling wind was making hitting tricky and Djokovic planted a forehand wide to give Nadal another break of serve, before the Spaniard moved four games clear at 5-1 after foxing Djokovic with a stunning display of top-spin forehands. Djokovic held to 2-5 then broke Nadal for only the second time in the tournament, before Nadal closed out the set 6-4. A thrilling drop-shot recovery from Djokovic kicked off the second set, with Nadal broken and Djokovic cementing the break as he scorched clear at 3-0. A wonderful lob from Djokovic was the highlight of the fifth game as he moved 4-1 up, before Nadal saved three break points to stay in touch. Djokovic kept his serve together, though, to win the set 6-3.

Nadal came through a tense deuce at the start of the deciding set, with both players making vital holds as it went to 2-2, although Nadal missed a chance at 0-30 on his opponent’s serve. A booming forehand winner from Nadal helped him win the fifth and seventh games, but, as the Mallorcan ramped up his game, Djokovic’s stunning defence and counter-attacking ability kept him level through to the tie-break. Nadal conceded a mini-break with the first point with a long forehand, but a punishing left-hand bullet earned him the break back instantly. It got worse for Djokovic as he netted to go 2-1 down, but he then found a way through some incredible Nadal defence for a fourth mini-break to go 2-2. The fifth point was also a break as Nadal sent down a double fault, before Djokovic finally held a point with a big serve that forced Nadal to go wide and 4-2 down. A wide backhand from Nadal then put Djokovic on the brink, and, after another break to go to 6-2 up, Nadal went long one final time to end the contest.

Nadal, who now goes into his favourite part of the season, on clay, was magnanimous in defeat. He said: “What Novak is doing at the start of this season is something difficult to repeat so well done to him and his team. “Today I had some good chances but Novak was too good for me this afternoon.” Djokovic, winning the trophy for the second time, added: “It was very close and it really could have gone either way.

“It was one of the best finals I ever played in in my life and it’s always a great pleasure and honour playing against Rafa who is a good friend and a great champion.”



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