1. Madrid Masters 2011: Final – beat Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-4
Novak Djokovic overcame a significant psychological hoodoo by scoring this impressive win over Rafa on a surface the Spaniard has made his own during the course of his career. Djokovic went into the match with the knowledge that he’d just beaten the Spaniard in two successive big finals – Indian Wells and Miami. However Nadal on clay is a different proposition and for six years he’d been almost untouchable. Yet Djokovic managed to find weaknesses, causing Nadal no end of problems with his devastating cross-court backhands and crucially he remained mentally tough enough on the big points to clinch a defining victory in their rivalry.
2. Rome Masters 2011: Final – beat Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4
By now Djokovic was inside Nadal’s head after victories in Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid but his win in the Rome final was one of his best performances of 2011. So often Nadal has reduced opponents to helpless frustration on clay, this time he got a taste of his own medicine. I never thought I’d see Nadal look as though he’d run out of ideas, not on clay anyway. But there was an air of desperation about the Spaniard as he slipped to another defeat against his rival. I still believe that if Djokovic hadn’t lost to Roger Federer in the Roland Garros semi-finals, he would have completed the career Grand Slam that year.
3. French Open 2012: Quarter-Finals – beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1
This wasn’t an especially high quality quarter-final but in terms of sheer drama it was the match of the tournament, pushing Djokovic to the limit and forcing him to dig as deep as he’s ever done in a Grand Slam. Tsonga had promised to ‘fight like a lion’ before the match and after recovering from a first set blowout he looked on course to pull off a shock upset in front of a partisan crowd. However Djokovic showed the fighting spirit which had seen him beat Nadal over six hours earlier in the year, saving four match points in the fourth set before clinching victory in five.
4. French Open 2012: Semi-Finals – beat Roger Federer 6-4, 7-5, 6-3
Djokovic wasn’t at his best during the 2012 clay-court swing but he still produced an outstanding performance to see off Federer in straight sets. It’s an especially notable win as it put him into the French Open final for the first time in his career and a year earlier, Federer had ended his dreams and lengthy winning streak in a four set classic. The Swiss shot off to an early lead but Djokovic remained rock-solid and Federer didn’t have the consistency to live with him.
5. French Open 2006: Second Round – beat Fernando Gonzalez 6-4, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1
While there are few surprises in my top four, this is more of an unusual choice. Back in May 2006, Djokovic was still a teenager, yet to achieve anything in the slams but that changed during a sensational fortnight at Roland Garros. Chilean Gonzalez was then ranked nine in the world and an Olympic gold medallists. Even more importantly, clay was his best surface yet Djokovic blasted out to a two set lead and withstood a strong fightback to clinch victory in five sets. Inspired, Djokovic went on to reach the quarter-finals that year and won his first ATP title on clay a month later.
Written by David Cox from Live-Tennis.com>