I'm not sure how many of you read Chris Clarey's articles, but he does a good job of describing the atmosphere of matches.
April 18, 2005
18-Year-Old Nadal Comes of Age on the Slow Clay of Monte Carlo
By CHRISTOPHER CLAREY
ONACO, April 17 - As it turned out on this day of rain and sun and long rallies on the Cote d'Azur, Guillermo Coria was absolutely right.
For the moment, Rafael Nadal is indeed the best player in the world on clay, just as Coria insisted he was on the eve of this Monte Carlo Masters Series final. Although Nadal was quick to wave off the compliment, the evidence is too compelling to refute after his 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 victory over Coria on Sunday.
At 18, Nadal had already won three minor Tour titles on the game's slowest, most demanding surface, and he had already helped Spain win the Davis Cup on clay. But this was the week when he showed the true depth of his talent.
Every leading candidate for this year's French Open title was in Monte Carlo for the first significant clay-court event of the season; the absent Americans Andre Agassi and Andy Roddick are not leading contenders. Among those in this tiny principality were last year's French Open champion, Gaston Gaudio, and last year's French Open runner-up, Coria, both of Argentina.
Nadal, seeded 11th, trumped each of them, allowing Gaudio just three games in the quarterfinals and outplaying the 23-year-old Coria, who was also the defending champion here, in a 3-hour, 7-minute final that was full of shifts in momentum and weather.
"My first big title," Nadal said. "I think I am very happy when I won the Davis Cup, but now is unbelievable."
The victory moved him into second place in the season-long points race behind Roger Federer. It also moved Nadal to No. 12 in the rankings, up from 51st at the start of the season.
It has been quite a month for Nadal, a flashy Majorcan with a ruffian's swagger and an angelic grin. Two weeks ago, he reached his first Masters Series final on the hard courts of Key Biscayne, Fla., taking a two-set and 4-1 lead on Federer before Federer roared back to win the tournament.
But Nadal is obviously a quick study as well as a quick mover. And although he again let a 4-1 lead slip away in the fourth set against the sixth-seeded Coria on Sunday, he managed to avoid letting the title escape with some spirited, phenomenally steady play under intense pressure down the stretch.
"I am sure it helped," Nadal said of his experience against Federer. "I know what happened in Miami, and today I was very, very concentrated all the time. When I lost 4-1 to 4-4 in the fourth, I had a lot of concentration to win the match."
The key game came on Nadal's serve at 4-4. Coria was lifting his level of play, taking big risks with his forehand and controlling the rallies, but Nadal managed to fight off a break point at 30-40, surprising Coria with a forehand winner that caught him leaning in the wrong direction.
Two good serves later, Nadal had stopped Coria's momentum. When they took their seats on the changeover, Nadal looked much more at peace with himself as he munched on a banana than did Coria, who was muttering darkly and shaking his head.
After each player held serve with ease, Nadal jumped out to a 15-40 lead on Coria's serve in the 12th game. Coria saved the first match point with a forehand winner, but he could not save the second. Nadal tracked down the last of Coria's many drop shots and slashed a forehand winner down the line.
"He hits the drop shot very, very well," Nadal said. "I think it is the best in the world. You know, he won a lot of points with that. But I won some very important points, no? The last one, for example."
For the first two sets, Coria struggled with his tactics and the weather. Although he seems mild-mannered off the court, he has a habit of complaining to chair umpires that has not helped his popularity with his peers, including his fellow Argentines. But Coria certainly had a case to make late in the first set, when he continually lobbied for a rain delay, arguing that the lines were getting slippery.
It was pouring, but with the weather report indicating that the downpour would be brief, the tournament organizers elected to keep Coria and Nadal on the court.
"The conditions were not favorable for me today, because it was raining pretty hard and the balls were very heavy," Coria said. "I was not able to hurt him as much as I wanted to and as much as I did at the end. I was almost able to turn it around. I'm still very pleased."
He did not look pleased as he stood on the podium after the match, declining to salute the crowd by showing his trophy. The postmatch handshake was also less than enthusiastic, but Coria did not ration his praise for Nadal afterward.
"I lost against the best player on clay," Coria said. "I thought that if the match was going to go long enough, he might get tired. But he was able to run very well."
That is quite a statement from a player who is considered one of the quickest in the game. But Coria clearly knows what he is talking about, and now Nadal, with one of the most prestigious trophies in tennis in his possession, is no longer in a position to argue.