Monday, 18 April 2016

9 Monte Carlos for King of Clay

For two sets the Monte Carlo final between Rafa Nadal and Gael Monfils provided some of the best and most competitive tennis of the year to date.  It was never reduced to what can sometimes occur with clay court tennis - perpetual rallies nullifying the natural stroke play of the best - instead it brought out the very highest quality of each of the combatants.

Admittedly the serving stats weren't the greatest, but figures alone can't determine which matches are most memorable, and once the rallies were in flow, the power and direction change we know that Nadal can fire off his racquet, challenged Monfils constantly.  
Just as frequently the delightfully unique and stylish Monfils shot making replied in effective silence to the bullish grunting Nadal brilliance.

It was one extra break of serve that the Spaniard managed to eke out which decided the outcome of set one and Rafa was half way to a ninth title in this resort 7-5.

Set two was not without its service breaks either, but it had little to do with first serve percentages which were sensational, Nadal's at 85%.  Today returning serve was pretty much spot on.

It was even better tennis than that served up earlier and the Frenchman delivered a serious blow in the seventh game with a second break and a 4-3 lead.  However Nadal stepped things up with some heavy ground strokes, and two successive double faults donated the break back to Rafa and it was 4-4.

Nadal then contributed possibly the best service game of the match.  He won it to love with some awesome serve / ground stroke combos and withering angles leaving Monfils powerless and needing only to walk from one receiving point to the next until the score reached 4-5 and he was serving to stay alive in the match.

Another twist in the tail, and the tale of this match, with an almost as impressive serving exhibition from Gael to level at 5-5, and an inexplicably break of the Spanish serve after seeing three break points saved.  Nadal's shot long to fall behind 5-6 was a rare cracking under pressure and Monfils took full advantage, serving out the set 7-5 and levelling the match.

As already noted, this was some of the best 2016 tennis for two sets.  The third set was unfortunately Rafa claiming his clay court rights in emphatic fashion, assisted no doubt by a tiring Gael Monfils.  The 6-0 scoreline is flattering in many ways to Nadal, but he did finish full of running and I believe deserves favouritism, or at least equal with Djokovic, for Roland Garros.

Despite the painful termination of the match, Monfils can be happy with much of the Monte Carlo final because of the way he forced Nadal to produce his best tennis.
For the record, Nadal won his 9th Monte Carlo crown in his 100th career final.  King of Clay once more, not that he ever really lost the title.

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