Djokovic, Nadal to meet in Monte Carlo Masters final

MONACO — Seven-time defending champion Rafael Nadal will try to beat top-ranked Novak Djokovic for the first time in eight finals when they meet in the Monte Carlo Masters final today.

Nadal advanced to the final without dropping a set in a 6-3, 6-4 win over Gilles Simon, while Djokovic rallied from a set down to beat Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and reach his second final at Monte Carlo.

Djokovic has beaten the Spaniard in seven consecutive finals, including the recent Australian Open, and handed Nadal his only two defeats on clay last year.

Nadal had not played for three weeks until the tournament after resting his troublesome left knee.

"Don't forget that few weeks ago, I didn't know if I will be here playing or not," he said. "The match will be a fantastic test for me, and I have to play aggressive."

Overall, Nadal leads their head-to-heads 16-14 but has not won since a group-stage match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London. Nadal has not lost in Monte Carlo since 2003 — he was injured the following year — and has won 41 straight matches here.

"We are evenly matched," Djokovic said. "You always know that Rafa is going to come up with his best fight and his best tennis."

The 10-time Grand Slam champion Nadal is without a title since winning last year's French Open. He was also without a title in 2011 heading into Monte Carlo, then went on to win here and at Roland Garros.

Fed Cup

At Kharkiv, Ukraine, Serena Williams overpowered Ukrainian teenager Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-1 to give the United States a 2-0 lead in the Fed Cup playoff series.

In the opening match, American Christina McHale defeated Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 on clay at the Superior Golf and Spa Resort.

The U.S. needs one victory among the reverse singles and doubles today to return to the top tier of the Fed Cup group. Williams could seal the U.S. place in the world group with a victory over Tsurenko today.

Americans Liezel Huber and Sloane Stephens will face Lyudmyla Kichenok and Nadiya Kichenok in doubles.

Williams made her first Fed Cup appearance on foreign soil in more than a decade to help gain eligibility for the U.S. team at the London Olympics.

In Fed Cup semifinal play Saturday, the Czech Republic leads Italy 2-0, and Russia and Serbia were tied 1-1. The winners advance to the final on Nov. 3-4.

Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, only faltered once against the 17-year-old Svitolina, who managed to reach 2-2 in the first set after going down an early break.

Williams won four straight games and sealed the first set with an ace. There was a short delay while Williams had her ankle wrapped as a precaution.

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