In order to retain his Madrid Open title and keep hold of his world No. 2 ranking, Andy Murray will need to get the better of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. A poor start to the Spring, losing early in the Masters 1000 events in both Indian Wells and Miami, has put the Scot on the verge of dropping down the rankings just ahead of the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, later this month.

But Murray has rediscovered his form on the clay. Having been stopped by Rafael Nadal in the semifinals in Monte Carlo, Murray got past the most decorated clay-court player of all time in Saturday’s semifinals in the Spanish capital. In a repeat of last year’s final, the 28-year-old triumphed in straight sets to become the first player ever to defeat Nadal at the same clay-court event in successive years.

The fact that Nadal came into the match unbeaten during the European clay-court season, taking in titles in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, only made the win all the sweeter for Murray.

“Not loads of players have won against Rafa on clay throughout his career,” Murray said afterward. “Very few in the last year for sure when he wasn’t playing his best. To beat him in Spain on a clay court is obviously a big, big challenge for any player, so I’m very pleased to have beaten him this year.”

“It’s a big, big step for me from where I was four or five weeks ago. I’m going back in the right direction again.”

The victory was further confirmation that Murray has become a major threat on a clay court. It was only just over a year ago that he claimed his first ever title on the surface. He followed that up with another in Madrid before pushing Djokovic all the way in the semifinals of the French Open, coming back to level the match at two sets all before losing out in the final set.

Still, that loss was just one of the 11 Murray has suffered against his long-time rival in their last 12 meetings. Djokovic, though, has stressed that he is more than aware of the threat Murray poses in Sunday’s final at the Caja Majica.

"Andy has tremendously improved in the last couple of years on the clay courts, he has already proved that he's definitely one of the best players in the world on this surface as well," the Serb told Sky Sports. "The rivalry continues. We have so many great finals, great matches, and I look forward to another one."

Djokovic was speaking after coming through his own semifinal, beating the 2014 Madrid runner-up Kei Nishikori in straight sets. The victory continued Djokovic’s record of not dropping a set this year in the Spanish capital. And on the whole it was another supreme performance, although he had to survive a late wobble. Serving for the match, the 2011 champion dropped his serve for the first time this week before coming through a tiebreak.

In an illustration of his dominance of the men’s tour of late, Djokovic has now won 14 straight matches against fellow top 10 ranked players.

Match time: 12:30 p.m. EDT

TV Channel: Tennis Channel

Live stream: Tennis Channel Everywhere