As if to silence his media critic, who had been baying for his blood for some time, former world no.1 Rafael Nadal cornered glory at 2016 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tournament. Playing great tennis throughout the week, Spain’s clay-court king Nadal overcame a hot challenge thrown at him by Frenchman Gael Monfils in the final. From 2005 to 2012, Nadal had ruled at the tournament and no one could survive his consistent onslaught until Novak Djokovic stopped him in the 2013 final. Several things happened in the intervening period as Nadal’s form took a nose dive and he began losing matches everywhere. But the doughty Spaniard refused to yield and continued his tennis career, which many described as nearing an end. But Nadal didn’t stop believing in himself and hung on to negate the mounting criticism in the media. It was a bit like what Roger Federer had gone through in early 2014 but as the Swiss Maestro survived, so would Nadal.
Like every year, the Monte-Carlo field had the glittering presence of the world’s best tennis talent. Despite early shocks in the tournament, which saw the exit of world no.1 Novak Djokovic and later the Swiss great Roger Federer, Nadal was nonchalant. He counted from one match to next and moved on through the rounds. Then came world no.4 Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinal and world no.2 Andy Murray in the semis. Nadal accounted for both of them and reached the final to meet Gael Monfils, who had vanquished Federer’s conqueror Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Earlier in the tournament, Czech Republic’s world no.55 Jiri Vesely had caused a shock exit for Novak Djokovic. Just when he looked totally invincible, Djokovic proved he was a human after all. It was a completely unexpected second-round loss for the world no.1 on Wednesday. But Swiss Superstar Roger Federer played clinically in his straight sets victory over Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut before losing in the quarterfinal against Frenchman Jo Wilfried Tsonga. Federer won the first set but Tsonga pulled himself back in the match and defeated Federer 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 and set up a semifinal clash with compatriot Gael Monfils. The French showman proved too good for Tsonga in his 6-1, 6-3 victory that took him to the final. Now Monfils had another chance to win an ATP 1000 Master event after runner-up finishes at Paris in 2009 & 2010.
As far Nadal, he defeated Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinal before clashing with world no.2 Andy Murray in the semis. Nadal began his match against Murray by losing the opening set but came back strongly to overturn the deficit and winning at 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to earn the chance of winning his 9th crown at Monaco.
The final was full of twists and turns. Nadal broke first in the opening set but Monfils also broke and denied Nadal the set as the Spaniard got ready to serve at 5-4. Monfils’ tremendous agility allowed him to save three set points and draw the scores level with a break. Two games later, Monfils almost forced a tiebreak but Nadal broke him to take the first set 7-5, when the Frenchman committed his 27th unforced error. In the second set, it was Monfils, who dominated as he broke Nadal to take a 3-1 lead. But yet again, Nadal brought his reserves into the game and drew the scores level at 4-4. Monfils swung back into action and after breaking Nadal again, prepared to serve for the set at 6-5. The Frenchman won the set and the match slipped into the deciding third set. Nadal was a different player in the third set as he broke Monfils twice and raced to a 5-0 lead. There was no stopping the Spaniard now as he closed the match after 2 hours 46 minutes with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 victory to clinch an unprecedented 9th title at Monte Carlo.
Nadal’s last ATP World Tour title had come 8 months ago at Hamburg, where he defeated Fabio Fognini in the final. Nadal also made history by reaching his 100th Tour-level final and winning 68 out of them. He is only the sixth played in tennis history to have recorded a century of final appearances after Jimmy Connors(164), Ivan Lendl(146), Roger Federer(136), John McEnroe (109) and Guillermo Vilas (104).