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Nadal Weathers Gael-force Storm For Doha Crown

Doha, Qatar

Nadal© AFP/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal won his 61st ATP World Tour title Saturday evening in Doha.

Rafael Nadal crafted an impressive performance in Saturday’s final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, opening his 2014 campaign with his 61st career title on the ATP World Tour. The Spaniard needed three sets and just under two hours to claim victory over a resilient Gael Monfils, clinching his maiden Doha title in his sixth trip to the desert metropolis. Nadal won 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2.

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With former World No. 1 Mats Wilander and 2002 Doha champion Younes El Aynaoui looking on, the Spaniard captured his first title of the young season, passing Andre Agassi for sole ownership of the eighth spot in the list of most Open Era titles on the ATP World Tour. The 2010 runner-up also claimed sole possession of the 13th position in the all-time ATP World Tour match wins list with 663 victories, supplanting Michael Chang.

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Nadal, who has now won titles in 17 different countries, said, "Every victory is important and the title today means a lot to me. It is the first time in my career that I am able to start the season with a victory. That's always important."

In an intriguing clash of athleticism and blistering shotmaking, Nadal was forced to weather the storm after Monfils fought back from an early deficit. The World No. 1 sprinted to a resounding 5-0 lead in the first set and the rout appeared to be on. Monfils’ intensity increased early in the second set, however, breaking for a 3-0 lead and eventually forcing a decider after hammering an ace on his third set point in a tie-break. The Frenchman found a consistent rhythm on serve and used his superior agility to open the court and strike sensational angles off both wings. 

"Rafa put pressure on me from the first point," said Monfils. "He was very aggressive from the first game and it was tougher for me to adjust. [In the second set] I tried to play with more power and stronger."

Nadal would not be deterred, replying with a break of serve in the fourth game of the third set and savingNadal, Monfils four break points from down 0/40 a game later. The Mallorca native made adjustments in his return position as the match wore on, retreating further behind the baseline to negate Monfils’ power. Monfils would commit 43 unforced errors for the match despite firing 13 aces, as Nadal converted on his second match point for the victory. 

"At the end, it's still Rafa. Rafa is strong, hitting hard the ball," Monfils added. "It's always tough to play against him and at the end he was a bit better than me today...I will still work hard and I will be confident the first day in Australia."

With Novak Djokovic opting not to play this week, Nadal further built on his lead at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, adding 250 points as well as $188,600 in prize money.

"The important thing today is I played with high intensity on my legs going for the ball, playing more inside, having more control of the point, playing from inside the line and changing directions much better with the forehand," Nadal said. "I think I played very well with my backhand today without many mistakes, trying to play to the open court."

Monfils was unable rediscover the magic from two previous wins over Nadal in Doha, in 2009 and 2012, dropping to 2-9 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head with the defeat. Nadal also halted a potential three-peat of French champions in Doha, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga triumphing in 2012 and Richard Gasquet claiming victory last year.

Three of Monfils’ 20 career finals have come in the Qatari capital, having finished runner-up to Roger Federer in 2006 and countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012. The World No. 31 was bidding for a fifth title and first since prevailing in Stockholm in 2011. He fell to 0-8 in title bouts against Top 10 opposition and 0-16 when dropping the first set.

ATP WORLD TOUR OPEN ERA TITLE LEADERS

 Position Player Titles
1 Jimmy Connors 109
2 Ivan Lendl 94
3 Roger Federer, John McEnroe 77
5 Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras 64
7 Guillermo Vilas 62
8 Rafael Nadal 61
9 Andre Agassi 60
10 Ilie Nastase 58
11 Boris Becker, Rod Laver 49

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