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It’s Novak vs Nadal

Monaco: Eight-time defending champion Rafael Nadal recorded his 46th consecutive win at the Monte Carlo Masters by beating Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6 (3) Saturday to set up a repeat of last year’s final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

The Spaniard has now reached five straight finals since returning from a seven-month layoff following a left knee injury. He will go for his fourth title of the season against Djokovic, who easily beat the unseeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-2, 6-1.

Serb showed no signs that his right ankle is still bothering him, two weeks after twisting it on Davis Cup duty against the United States.

Djokovic and Nadal have not played against each other since last year’s French Open final, which Nadal won.

He has won their last three encounters, after Djokovic took the previous seven — all of which were tournament finals. Nadal leads their head-to-head contests 19-14.

The sixth-seeded Tsonga saved four match points as he rallied back from 5-1 down to force a second-set tiebreaker, which was evenly poised at 3-3 before Tsonga started making unforced errors again by hurrying his shots.

Nadal clinched the victory with a forehand winner and took a step closer to a ninth straight Monte Carlo title and to extending his Masters titles record to 23.

Tsonga started brightly but missed three breakpoint chances in the fourth game — including one which left him shaking his head in disbelief after Nadal scooped the ball off his ankles and whipped it back down the line.

“It’s fantastic to be in a fifth final in a row after seven months out,” said Nadal after reaching the summit clash. “ Novak pushes you to the limits.”

“He was extremely good today, and this is also what I call the champion’s luck,” Tsonga said. “The top players are able to do that.”

The flustered Frenchman lost his next service game easily and then lost his way totally, making 17 unforced errors in the first set compared to four for Nadal.

Fognini made 26 unforced errors and was jeered off the court at the end of his first Masters semi-final.

The Italian called for a trainer at 4-1 before continuing.

But he looked demoralized and on the next changeover he called the trainer again, pointing to his left shin as the trainer sprayed and taped it. The Italian lost his serve again in the next game as Djokovic wrapped up the set without facing a break point and converted two of his four chances on Fognini’s serve.

Fognini did not hang around and quickly left the court as boos rang down from the stands.

On the other hand, it looked like Nadal would wrap up the second set more quickly than the first, breaking for a 2-0 lead and later holding three match points at 5-2. Tsonga saved those with some excellent shot-making, and then started to believe he could turn the set around.

“I always try to be aggressive when I play him. It’s the only way for me. If I stay back, there’s no way I can win,” Tsonga said. “But I can’t rush to the net either because otherwise he hits a passing shot, and 90 percent of the time I lose the point. So I have to have the right mix between patience and aggressiveness.”

With Nadal serving for the match in the ninth game, Tsonga held two breakpoints that were erased by a pair of aces.

The Spaniard made two unforced errors, however, to drop serve and the Frenchman then drew level at 5-5 as chants of “Tsonga, Tsonga” rang out in the crowd.