How Nadal Prevailed In The Principality
Rafael Nadal capped a magical week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, surging to the title on a pristine, sun-kissed afternoon in the Principality. Nadal blasted past Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 33 minutes to capture the highly-entertaining championship clash. He has now won a jaw-dropping 36 consecutive sets on clay, a personal-best on the surface.
The Spaniard notched an unprecedented 31st ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title and 11th in Monte-Carlo. Furthermore, Nadal extended his stay atop the ATP Rankings, having needed a win to remain at No. 1. Nishikori, meanwhile, was bidding for his first Masters 1000 crown in what was his fourth final.
Nadal bumps his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead over Nishikori to 10-2. Despite falling in their previous meeting, for the bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics, he has not lost in four encounters on clay. Two of those clashes came in finals as well, at the 2014 Mutua Madrid Open and 2016 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.
Here is how the final unfolded...
FIRST SET - Nadal 6-3
Opulence abounds on a seemingly perfect Sunday in the Principality, with celebrities and royalty in attendance for the championship clash. The patterns were clear for Nishikori, whose timing and rhythm have greatly improved since returning to the ATP World Tour in February. Using his potent backhand to send a message to Nadal and break down his forehand, is a necessary element to succeed against the Spaniard's vaunted clay-court game.
Nadal launched a forehand pass on the run, sprinting across the baseline to fire sharp-angled winner, to send an immediate message in Nishikori's first service game. A 16-point game would ensue, as the Manacor native applied immediate pressure on his opponent's serve.
But it was Nishikori who claimed first blood with a break to 15 in the next game. It marked just the third time Nadal had been broken all tournament. The Japanese shuffled a backhand past a net-charging Nadal to grab the initial break.
As quickly as Nishikori seized the initiative, Nadal's response was swift and devastating, breaking right back as the Shimane native struck an untimely double fault. Nishikori showed flashes of brilliance throughout the set, crafting improbable angles without warning, but he would have no answer for Nadal's penetrating forehand and kicking serve. The Spaniard reeled off seven straight points en route to capturing another break and he would secure the opener after 56 minutes. A forehand down the line, his ninth winner of the set, would see him move one step closer to an 11th crown at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.
SECOND SET - Nadal 6-2
With Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene of Monaco in attendance, Nadal extended his sets-won streak on clay to a career-best 35 won in a row. Nishikori was eager to make it a competitive affair, but two quick breaks for Nadal would prove devastating as the second set got underway.
Nishikori will hold his head high after a breakthrough week on the Monte-Carlo clay, his best result in his return to the ATP World Tour, but Nadal proved to be too much of an unstoppable force on Sunday. A backhand winner secured the title for the Spaniard, his 31st at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was Nadal's fifth victory in Monte-Carlo without dropping a set.
Nadal fired 20 winners, including 13 on his forehand wing, while dominating the shorter rallies. He won 34-19 points under five shots. The Manacor native converted four of eight break points in total to prevail after one hour and 33 minutes.