Sunday, 17 April 2016

Monfils to face Nadal in Monte Carlo finale

The Monte Carlo semi finals were intriguing.  The first of them saw Andy Murray start where he left off last year in Madrid, where he won a clay court Masters battle over Rafa Nadal.  The Scot was easily the better mover around the court and was causing all sorts of frustration for Nadal.  Unfortunately none of it transferred onto the scoreboard and Rafa was serving to level at 3-3.

Murray finally struck, creating three break points, helped somewhat by Nadal's arguments with the chair umpire.  The break was achieved and another when Rafa was serving to stay in the set, Murray looking just as good, if not better, than when he destroyed Raonic in the quarters.

Rafa was miffed, and took a couple of angry pills to accentuate his unhappiness.  He wasn't prepared to allow this show pony from Scotland to take another clay court crown from the master of this surface.  He broke straight away, only for it to be neutralised immediately.  However, this was a vastly different set with Nadal far more focused on the task at hand.  He was matching the shot making and court movement of Murray, and building enough pressure to eventually break the Scottish serve for a 4-3 lead and it was sufficient to take the set 6-4.  The match was now worthy of a third set.

The decider was virtually a mirror image of set one with Nadal now in complete control, choosing the perfect time for his winning drop shots and generally taking full advantage of Murray's less effective court coverage.

Nadal won 2-6 6-4 6-2 and his spot in the final made him immediate hot favourite irrespective of who should win the next semi final.

The scoreline of the Monfils / Tsonga semi was extraordinary, considering the head to head record of the two.  Tsonga had won five of the seven clashes, although the most recent encounter in Miami 2015 saw Monfils triumphant.  They had surprisingly never met in a match on a clay court.

Gael Monfils was on fire in the first set.  Both players were amazing with first serve percentages over 70%, but the stark difference was in points won when the first serve was successful.  Monfils won 77% of the time, while Tsonga could not handle the returning of the other Frenchman, winning only a third of the points when his first serve hit the mark.

This combination of serving and returning ensured plenty of opportunities to break and Monfils did, four times in fact, and he took Tsonga to the cleaners 6-1.  Incredible performance and although Tsonga regrouped for a second set revival, it was clear that Monfils had all the answers in this match, and he clinched the other final position with a brilliant 6-1 6-3 victory.

Hard to visualise Monfils doing enough to threaten Nadal in a Monte Carlo final which the Spaniard has won 8 out of the past 9 years, but Djokovic managed it last year, and we have been surprised by some results in 2016.  I don't think this will be one of those times.

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