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Nadal Begins Quest For Fifth Title In Style

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Rafael Nadal Reaches For The Ball© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal Reaches For The Ball

ATP World Tour Champion Rafael Nadal, who is looking to capture a record fifth successive Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters trophy this week, produced an awesome display of counter-attacking tennis to secure a 6-2, 6-3 second-round victory over Juan Ignacio Chela on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old Mallorcan kept Chela pinned behind the baseline with some thunderous groundstrokes, particularly off the forehand wing, to improve to 5-1 lifetime against the World No. 167, who returned to action in February following an eight-month absence from the ATP World Tour circuit due to a herniated disc injury.

“I think it is important to try to start well,” explained Nadal, “to have the confidence for the rest of the clay season. But the important thing is the tournament. [It] is [a] really important tournament for me. Monte-Carlo is [an] historic tournament.”

Last year, Nadal became the first player to win four straight titles since New Zealand’s Anthony Wilding from 1911-1914. Only Reggie Doherty (1897-99, 1902-04) has won more titles in the 103-year history of the clay-court championship.

“I have to improve [my] concentration in the next match,” said Nadal, who has a 25-1 career record in Monte-Carlo, having won 23 straight matches. His last loss came in the 2003 third round to Guillermo Coria. “That's the important thing.”

Chela, 29, dropped to 16-44 lifetime against Top 10 opponents after dropping his serve five times to Nadal, who has a 25-4 record on the season and is 134-4 on clay-courts since 2005.

Once again Nadal has proven to be the player to beat during the European clay-court season that includes ATP World Tour Masters 1000 stops at Rome and Madrid before he attempts to capture a fifth successive Roland Garros crown.

Nadal will next meet either Russian Marat Safin or qualifier Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador in the third round.

David Ferrer, another Spaniard who has enjoyed his time at the Monte-Carlo Country Club as a four-time quarter-finalist, ensured France will not have a representative in the third round for the first time since 1995 when the 10th seed thrashed Marc Gicquel 6-1, 6-0 in just 50 minutes.

Ferrer, currently No. 12 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, restricted Gicquel to just 10 points on serve in the pair’s fourth career meeting. The 27 year old goes on to meet Australian Open semi-finalist and seventh-seeded compatriot Fernando Verdasco, who dispatched Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany earlier in the day.

Nadal will next meet Ecuadorian qualifier and World No. 98 Nicolas Lapentti, who beat the Spaniard on clay in a third-set tie-break at Bastad in 2003. On Thursday, Lapentti will attempt to become the second player to beat Nadal twice on clay in his career. Former Roland Garros champion Gaston Gaudio did it three times (2003-04-05).

The 31-year-old Lapentti won an epic encounter on Court des Princes against former World No. 1 Marat Safin of Russia 7-6(6), 2-6, 7-6(6) over three hours and 29 minutes. It was the pair’s first meeting since Barcelona in 2000.

Safin led Lapentti 4-0 in the deciding set and first squandered two match points, whilst serving at 5-2, 40-15. Two games later another match point went begging, which only boosted Lapentti’s confidence of scoring his sixth win on the 2009 ATP World Tour circuit.

When Safin was broken by Lapentti for a 6-5 lead, the temperamental Russian snapped his racquet in two pieces and received a penalty point. Lapentti began serving at 15-0 in the next game and quickly gained three match points. Match over? Not a chance. Safin regained his composure and won five straight points to take the second-round clash to a tie-break.

Lapentti stormed into a 5-1 lead, before Safin got back to trail 4-5. Match points numbers four and five went the Russians way when Lapentti led 6-4.

At 7-6, Lapentti would surely capitalise on a sixth match point? A rally, contested by players wracked with nerves, from behind the baseline, came to an end when Lapentti approached the net forcing Safin to pass him with a backhand down the line. The ball went into the net and handed Lapentti a famous win.

Lapentti joins German Andreas Beck and Fabio Fognini of Italy as qualifiers who have made it into the third round. The last time this happened at the Monte-Carlo Country Club was six years ago, when Alberto Martin (l. to Ferrero) and Filippo Volandri (l. to Spadea) reached the quarter-finals and a 16-year-old Nadal (l. to Coria) in the third round.

Federer Sweeps Into Third Round

Four-time former ATP World Tour Champion Roger Federer began his quest for a 15th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophy in fine fashion at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Wednesday, extending his winning streak to 5-0 over Italian Andreas Seppi with a 6-4, 6-4 victory in one hour and 23 minutes.

Federer improved to 21-8 lifetime at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, the venue of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tennis tournament, where he is a three-time runner-up (2006-08). He made his tournament debut 10 years ago, when he lost to Vince Spadea in the first round.

“I thought I played okay,” said Federer.  “I had a good stretch at the end of the first set, beginning of the second. Maybe could have made it easier for myself in the second. [I ] had some opportunities [and] he hung in there and I didn't play my best.

“I definitely think he didn't have a good serving day today. I like his style. He stays very easy on his backhand and on his forehand.  There's no big upper body movement.”

The Swiss superstar struck four aces past Seppi and won 26 of 30 points on first service, saving two break points, to set up a third-round clash against his compatriot and No. 12 seed Stanislas Wawrinka. The pair captured the Olympic Games doubles gold medal for Switzerland in Beijing, China, in August 2008.

“Of course, I like to play against [Wawrinka],” said Federer. “I'm so happy he was able to take it to the next level last year, getting into the Top 10, finally sort of making the break.

“He was always a guy taking one step back, two steps forward. So it's nice to see him playing more consistently now on a regular basis. It's our first match on clay against each other. I'm excited to see how it's going to turn out.”

Federer has an 18-4 record on the season, highlighted by reaching the Australian Open (l. to Nadal) final. A winner of seven clay-court titles, the 27 year old has amassed an 85-14 record on clay courts over the past five years. Nine of his losses have come to his great rival Nadal.

Seppi, 25, dropped to 6-10 on the season after winning just 17 points on return of serve. His last ATP World Tour final appearance came at Gstaad (l. to Mathieu) in July 2007.

On Saturday, Federer married his long-time girlfriend Mirka Vavrinec in a low-key private ceremony in his hometown of Basel in Switzerland. The couple, who met during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, are expecting their first child in the summer.

Wawrinka, who reached the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Rome final (l. to Djokovic) in May 2008, survived a slow start to beat Argentine Martin Vassallo Arguello 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours and 35 minutes. The World No. 16 has a 10-6 record on the season.

“[It’s going to] be nice to play him on the centre court here, the clay-court," said Wawrinka of his clash with Federer. "I played him three times already. I always lost. But it was indoor and [a] hard-court. So it's [going to] be fun to play tomorrow.”

Elsewhere, eighth-seeded Russian Nikolay Davydenko made a welcome return to the ATP World Tour circuit after a two-month absence.

The World No. 9 improved to 3-1 lifetime against Ivo Karlovic of Croatia with a 6-4, 6-3 win in one hour and 23 minutes. Karlovic hit eight aces and saved 12 of 16 break points, against an opponent who has struggled to overcome a left heel injury he sustained at Chennai, India, in January.

“My season starts from Monte Carlo, not from [the] Australian Open,” explained Davydenko. “I think every match if I win is good for me, very good for the future, for the next, next tournaments."

The 27-year-old Davydenko will next meet either 12th-seeded Argentine David Nalbandian or Marcel Granollers of Spain in the third round.

Verdasco Notches First Monte-Carlo Win

Croatian Ivan Ljubicic recorded his 31st career win over a Top 10 opponent (31-55 lifetime) at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Wednesday to keep alive his chances of reaching the first clay-court final of his career.

The 30-year-old Monte-Carlo resident, a wild card entry making his 10th appearance in 11 years, shrugged off losing the opening set against fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina to notch his ninth win of the 2009 ATP World Tour season. Ljubicic stands one win away from replicating his best Monte-Carlo showing after beating del Potro 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and 29 minutes.

Ljubicic squandered break points for a 3-0 lead in the deciding set and later fought hard to level the score-line at 4-4, before the former World No. 3 gained a crucial break – his fifth of the pair’s first career meeting – and went on to book his place in the third round where he will meet Simone Bolelli of Italy. Ljubicic struck 13 aces and saved seven of 10 break points.

Del Potro, 20, who made his main draw debut this week after narrowly missing out on qualifying in 2008, dropped to 19-6 on the season – highlighted by one ATP World Tour title at Auckland (d. Querrey) and one semi-final exit at ATP World Tour Miami (d. Nadal in QFs; l. to Murray).

For the first time in 31 years at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, two Italians Bolelli and Fabio Fognini have won successive matches on the clay courts of the Monte-Carlo Country Club. You have to go back to 1978, when Adriano Panatta and Corrado Barazzutti met in the quarter-finals to find the last instance.

Bolelli secured back-to-back tour-level wins for the first time since October 2008 at Basel, following a 7-5, 6-3 win over No. 56-ranked Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia in one hour and 42 minutes. World No. 41 Bolelli withstood eight aces from Tipsarevic’s racquet and converted two of seven break point opportunities to improve to a 7-8 mark this year.

Like Montanes, 23-year-old Bolelli has now won successive matches at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament on three occasions (also 2008 Miami, Rome).

Qualifier Fognini, currently No. 109 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings, caused an upset when he beat 14th seed Marin Cilic of Croatia 6-2, 6-0 in just 69 minutes for a place in the third round of an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament for only the second time (2007-Toronto) in his career.

Cilic won just 38 per cent of service points and his serve was broken six times to gift Fognini a meeting against fourth-seeded Scot Andy Murray.

Earlier in the day seventh-seeded Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, brimming with confidence, recorded his second straight win over Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany this year with a 6-3, 6-4 victory in 84 minutes. It was his first win of the European clay-court season and he improved to 16-4 this year.

Despite hitting four double faults and saving two break points, Verdasco won 71 per cent of service points. It was his first singles win in five appearances at the Monte-Carlo Country Club and his second victory over Kohlschreiber this year (also ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Indian Wells).

The 25-year-old Kohlschreiber, a straight sets winner over Ernests Gulbis on Sunday, drops to 11-7 on the season highlighted by two quarter-final exits at Doha (l. to Federer) and Auckland (l. to Ferrer).

Verdasco, who is working part-time with Andre Agassi and Lleyton Hewitt’s former coach Darren Cahill, will next face either compatriot and No. 10 seed David Ferrer or France’s last representative in the singles draw Marc Gicquel in the third round.

Spaniard Albert Montanes won back-to-back matches at an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tennis tournament for only the third time (also 2002 Rome, 2008 Hamburg) in his career on Wednesday, after dispatching Monaco wild card Jean-Rene Lisnard 6-2, 6-4 in 82 minutes. Lisnard won just 17 points on return of serve.

World No. 36 Montanes, who reached the Casablanca semi-finals (l. to Serra) and has an 8-10 record on the season, will next hope to avenge his 2008 Hamburg quarter-final loss to third seed Novak Djokovic of Serbia.

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