Rafael Nadal faces a fight to hold on to his world No.1 ranking after Novak Djokovic extended his victory streak to 34 matches with a 7-5 6-4 win over the Spaniard at the Madrid Masters on Sunday.
Nadal had to swallow his first loss on clay in nearly two years, a run of 37 straight victories stretching back to the French Open fourth round in 2009 when he lost to Robin Soderling.
Now Nadal has this week’s Rome Masters, Roland Garros and Wimbledon champion’s points to defend.
With Djokovic only reaching two quarter-finals and a Wimbledon semi-final during the same period a year ago, the Serb is now well-placed to seize the top ranking and fulfill his lifetime tennis dream.
“I walked onto the court thinking I could win,” said Djokovic, now holder of six titles this season.
“I’m very happy with the way I played. Beating Nadal is the greatest challenge on clay, I’m so glad I was able to do it.”
Djokovic insisted that he is not getting too side-tracked by the pursuit of the world No.1 spot.
“If I continue to win, I will get closer to it, but I am trying not to think about it as I have only just started my claycourt season,” he said.
“It’s a perfect start to win two events on clay (Djokovic also won in Belgrade last weekend).
“But I am concentrating on the tournaments ahead. I know that if I want to become number one, I will have to play well constantly week after week.
“That’s what Rafa and the other players will be doing.”
World No.2 Djokovic has now won three straight Masters 1000 trophies over Nadal after defeating the number one at Indian Wells and Miami in March and April respectively.
Sunday’s win was also the Serb’s first over Nadal on clay after losing their nine previous meetings on the surface while his incredible winning streak is made up of 32 matches in 2011 and his two Davis Cup victories in December.
“Obviously I didn’t play at my best,” said Nadal. “I didn’t play badly, just normal. But that is not enough against Djokovic.”
Djokovic’s start is the best to a season since John McEnroe in 1984 when he went 42-0.
He suffered his last loss against Roger Federer in the semi-finals at the World Tour Finals in London on November 27, 2010.
“I don’t think about the record,” said Djokovic. “I just concentrate on what I am doing. I am a more mature player, a more mature person.
“I know that my record is incredible, but I try not to think about how long it will go on for or when I might lose.”
Nadal said he had been hoping to be “third time lucky” after his losses to Djokovic in Indian Wells and Miami.
“I’ll have to keep working to try and beat you,” said the world number one. “You are really off to a great start of the season.”
Djokovic constructed his two-hour, 17-minute win through 27 winners and 26 unforced errors, while Nadal, playing in front of 15,000 of his home public at the Caya Magica, had just 17 winners.
With his eighth career Masters triumph, Djokovic has lifted trophies at six different venues in the elite series.