Relieved Nadal wins 9th Monte Carlo 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 yesterday 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-equalling 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 savour 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."
first title of the year
It was his first title of the year, having won only three in 2015 when he 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 quarter-finals 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 semi-finals; 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."
resilience coming back
Although Nadal says he is "still not 100 per cent", 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 August. His previous final was in January routed by Djokovic in Doha.