MONACO – Recording his 46th consecutive win at the Monte Carlo Masters, eight-time defending champion Rafael Nadal beat 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 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 cruised past unseeded Fabio Fognini of Italy 6-2, 6-1.
The Serb showed no signs his right ankle is still bothering him, two weeks after twisting it during a Davis Cup match 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 career series 19-14.
The sixth-seeded Tsonga saved four match points, rallying from 5-1 down to force a second-set tiebreaker. He tied it 3-3 before making unforced errors 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 well 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.
"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 and totaled 17 unforced errors in the first set compared to four for Nadal.
It looked like Nadal would wrap up the second set more quickly than the first, breaking for a 2-0 lead and holding three match points at 5-2. Tsonga saved those with some excellent shot-making, and turned 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 to drop serve and the Frenchman tied it at 5-5 as chants of "Tsonga, Tsonga" rang out in the crowd.
Tsonga saved a fourth match point in the 12th game when an off-balance Nadal sent a forehand well wide.
But Tsonga ultimately made too many unforced errors — 39 to Nadal's 12 — costing him a chance of taking Nadal into a third set. Grigor Dimitrov won a set off Nadal before losing in Friday's quarterfinals.
Nadal has not lost at Monte Carlo since falling to former French Open champion Guillermo Coria in 2003. Nadal missed the following year because of an injury.
Fognini made 26 unforced errors and was jeered off the court at the end of his first Masters semifinal. The Italian called for a trainer at 4-1.
At 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 quickly left the court as boos rang down from the stands.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.