World number one Novak Djokovic laid down an early French Open marker when he reached the Monte Carlos Masters final with a comprehensive 6-3 6-3 win over eight-times champion Rafa Nadal on Saturday.
Serbian Djokovic, who ended Nadal’s reign on the principality’s claycourts in the 2013 final, will meet Czech Tomas Berdych after the sixth seed beat local favourite Gael Monfils 6-1 6-4 in the other semi-final.
Saturday’s match was a serious reality check for the third-seeded Nadal, who is hoping to clinch his 10th Roland Garros title.
The Spaniard never found the appropriate depth to unsettle Djokovic, who is looking to win his third consecutive Masters title after triumphing in Indian Wells and Miami.
“Even when I was a break down in the first set I kept a winning mentality,” Djokovic told a courtside interviewer.
“I stayed focused. I’m in great shape, I don’t feel tired.”
Nadal told a news conference: “He’s phenomenal the way that he can move the ball to everywhere. If he takes advantage from inside the court, you are dead. That’s what happened, no?”
Nadal got off to the best start, breaking in the first game and setting up another break point in the third which was saved by Djokovic who broke back in the fourth as he took control of the contest.
The Serbian stole Nadal’s serve again to open a 5-3 lead when the Spaniard made an unusual forehand error.
Djokovic wrapped up the opening set with a service winner and did not release the pressure in the second.
Nadal was always on the back foot, having to save two break points early on to stay in contention but he crumbled in the seventh game, conceding the decisive break when he sent a forehand wide.
Djokovic finished off the match on his opponent’s serve with a backhand winner.
Earlier, Berdych reached the final by cutting Monfils down to size, breezing through the opening set without facing a single break point.
Local favourite Monfils, who beat Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov en route to the semi-finals in the European claycourt season’s opening tournament, offered more resistance in the second set but made too many unforced errors.
Berdych now has a 6-1 record against 14th-seeded Frenchman Monfils, who came back from an injury absence late last month.