Rafael Nadal reclaimed his throne at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title, prevailing 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 over Gael Monfils after two hours and 45 minutes
Nadal captured an unprecedented ninth crown at the prestigious clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event and first since 2012. He improved to 28-14 in Masters 1000 finals. Monfils, meanwhile, was bidding to become the first Frenchman to triumph in Monte-Carlo since Cedric Pioline prevailed in 2000 (d. Hrbaty).
Nadal now leads the FedEx ATP Head2Head 12-2, having claimed their previous three encounters entering the final. Their very first meeting came here in Monte-Carlo in 2005, with the Spaniard emerging in straight sets.
Here is how the final unfolded:
FIRST SET – Nadal 7-5
An overcast Sunday afternoon at the Monte-Carlo Country Club welcomed Nadal and Monfils, with benign rain showers passing through the Principality.
With rather routine victories over Gilles Muller, Paolo Lorenzi, Jiri Vesely, Marcel Granollers and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Frenchman entered his third Masters 1000 final having not relinquished a set all week, and the charismatic Frenchman would send an early message against the eight-time champion.
Monfils looked to open the court with sharp angles and great depth and not allow Nadal to find his rhythm from the baseline. As proceedings got underway in the Principality, he would strike the fastest forehand of the week at 171 km/h, vaporising a winner that clipped the back edge of the baseline. Nadal would hold for 2-1 after a grueling eight-minute game, saving a break point.
A sudden injection of pace from the 29-year-old Manacor native would see him grab the initial break for 3-1, rifling a backhand winner down the line. But an untimely double fault in the next game handed Monfils a 0/40 lead, and a wayward backhand two points later handed him the break back. Energised and seemingly not intimidated by the moment, Monfils would strike an ace and a thunderous forehand winner to save two break points in the sixth game.
The first set would materialise into a high-octane war of attrition, as the World No. 16 dug in his heels in the clay to deny Nadal serving for the set at 5-4 and saved three set points a game later. Using his trademark agility, Monfils covered every inch of the court, crashing into a stanchion against the back wall to track down a Nadal forehand.
But Monfils’ run of fortune would come to an end with the set on the doorstep of a tie-break. Nadal converted his sixth set point, breaking for 7-5 after 73 minutes as Monfils struck his 27th unforced error.
SECOND SET – Monfils 7-5
With Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco, fashion icon Tommy Hilfiger and WTA star Caroline Wozniacki in attendance, Nadal extended his streak of sets won over Monfils to seven straight.
As the second set got underway, a free-swinging Monfils would unleash a bevy of monster forehands, snagging a break in the third game and consolidating for 3-1. Firing away without reserve, the exuberant Frenchman turned in a tour de force off the ground.
But Nadal would strike back, reeling off seven straight points to break to love. Despite conceding a break in the next game, he would pull proceedings level once again at 4-4.
The lead – and momentum – would continue to vacillate between the two gladiators and finally came to rest on Monfils’ shoulders. He was a brick wall, sending varying pace and angles to Nadal’s side of the court and forcing the Spaniard into compromising positions. Standing tall and dictating from the baseline, Monfils converted a third break of the set for 6-5 and served it out to force a decider to the delight of the Monte-Carlo faithful.
THIRD SET – Nadal 6-0
Nadal is 45-13 in deciding sets on clay in his illustrious career, but the Spaniard has dropped two of his last three such decisions, falling to Pablo Cuevas in Rio de Janeiro and Dominic Thiem in Buenos Aires. He had also dropped nine of his last 12 deciding-set tour-level finals on all surfaces.
That said, Nadal is a different animal in the Principality and he proved to be up to the task in the third set. The Manacor native consolidated for a double break lead at 5-0, racing to the insurmountable advantage in a flash.
Nadal’s game kicked into another gear, painting line after line after running Monfils ragged. A sublime running forehand winner secured the victory for the Spaniard with a final-set bagel, reclaiming his throne in Monte-Carlo. It was his 48th clay-court crown, pulling to within one of Guillermo Vilas’ record 49. Nadal prevailed after two hours and 45 minutes, striing 25 winners in total.