Rafael Nadal captures 9th Monte Carlo Masters title

Spaniard scores 28th career Masters title

The relief was evident for Rafael Nadal, as he overcame a sloppy performance on his serve to beat Frenchman Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 on Sunday and get his hands on the Monte Carlo Masters trophy for the ninth time.

This was the Spaniard’s first tournament win in Monte Carlo since the last of his eight straight titles there in 2012. It is also the record-equaling 28th Masters title for Nadal, bringing him alongside top-ranked Novak Djokovic.

He sank to his knees after sealing victory with a brilliant forehand winner, tilting his head back, closing his eyes to savor his biggest tournament win since the French Open in June, 2014 and his first at a Masters event since Madrid a few weeks before that.

“It has been a very important week. The victory confirms that I am better,” Nadal said. “Monte Carlo is one of the most important places for me without a doubt.”

It was his first title of the year, having won only three in 2015 — when was riddled with self-doubt and became a prey on clay, rather than a predator.

Last year, Djokovic battered him in the French Open quarter-finals; Stan Wawrinka beat him in the Rome Masters quarterfinals in straight sets; Andy Murray routed him in the Madrid final 6-3, 6-2; Djokovic won 6-3, 6-3 in the Monte Carlo semifinals; and even erratic Italian Fabio Fognini beat him twice — in Rio and Barcelona.

“I’m enjoying it after some tough moments,” said the fifth-ranked Nadal. “Last year was a tough year. The nerves that I had, I was anxious in the matches.”

Although Nadal says he is “still not 100 percent” his famed resilience is coming back.

“This week I was able to increase my level when things became tough, like I did before,” he said. “We will see how things are in the next six months [but] I have to enjoy this moment. Tomorrow I will start to think about Barcelona, another important event.”

It took him 2 hours, 46 minutes to finally see off Monfils, who had never won a set against Nadal on clay and had lost 11 of their 13 previous matches.

“You just have to accept he’s a bit better.” Monfils said. “He increased his intensity and changed the way he was playing.”

Nadal dropped his serve five times against the 13th-seeded Monfils in a topsy-turvy encounter in which they conceded 34 break-point chances between them.

Playing in his 100th final, Nadal clinched his 68th title and his first since winning on clay at Hamburg last Augusta. His previous final was in January — routed by Djokovic in Doha.

In a contest between two 29-year-olds with differing career trajectories, Monfils was rank outsider.

Nadal can’t be solved

Since they first played each other 11 years ago, Nadal has won 14 Grand Slams and Monfils has never even won a Masters title.

In their previous four contests on clay, Monfils had lost in straight sets and never taken more than three games off Nadal, dating back to their first-ever career encounter here in the second round in 2005.

At times it seemed Monfils could cause a big upset, hitting superb winners from incredible angles and with brutal strength.

But instead it was a 19th defeat in 24 finals and a third in a Masters final, having lost twice in Paris. He will regret 51 unforced errors, considering Nadal made 36 and double-faulted four times. But Monfils double-faulted seven times and lost his serve eight times.

With six weeks to go until the French Open in Paris, Nadal will already have one eye on a 10th title, but will need to serve much better.

In total, he faced 47 break points during this tournament, dropping serve 13 times, and better opponents would have made him pay.

Nadal missed a chance to serve out the first set at 5-3 up but double-faulted as Monfils pulled back before holding for 5-5 in the next game — which featured one staggering 33-shot rally.

A rare comfortable hold from Nadal put him 6-5 up. Serving to stay in the set, Monfils saved four sets points before a double fault gave Nadal the opener.

Monfils broke Nadal to lead 2-1 in the second set and then rallied from 0-40 down to hold for 3-1.

Playing with great athleticism, Monfils hit an incredible leaping forehand down the line to force another chance on Nadal’s serve.

But Nadal held and broke Monfils to love in the next game to level at 3-3.

Monfils broke him again with a brilliant forehand winner down the line for 4-3, only for Nadal to break back.

At the end of the second set, sweat was pouring off Nadal’s face, but Monfils was even more drained and he crumbled in a third set lasting 30 minutes. “I simply couldn’t find an answer,” he said.

Article Written By: The Associated Press