Rafael Nadal justified that air of invincibility he took into the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 last week, by claiming his seventh title from seven attempts at the prestigious venue. Nadal comfortably held off the challenge of compatriot David Ferrer in the final, winning 6-4 7-5, without ever really being in trouble and in the process confirmed himself as the best clay court player in the world by some considerable distance. His performance also showed why he will start the French Open tennis championship next month as the odds on favourite to win the title for the sixth time, thus equalling the record held by Bjorn Borg.
12 months ago, Nadal won all the substantial clay court tournaments before regaining his crown at Roland Garros
, which of course he had lost in 2009 after incurring an injury in the last 16 which cost him his match against Swede, Robin Soderling. That injury forced Nadal to miss out on defending his crown at Wimbledon Championship
too, where a little pinch of salt was added to his injury, by the fact that his great rival, Roger Federer, claimed both titles.
Based upon his performances in Monte Carlo, Nadal will be extremely hard to beat on clay again this year, particularly by Federer, who went out in the last eight in Monte Carlo, surprisingly beaten by Jurgen Melzer of Austria. In defeat it was probably fair to assume the ‘The Fed’ has probably lost the tag of being the second best clay court player in the world. He appeared to find the going very tough against Melzer where he lost in two straight sets somewhat tamely.
Melzer of course went out in the semi final to Ferrer, but it was in the other semi final, that enthralled a very lively crowd and where Nadal met with the most trouble. That trouble came from Scotland’s Andy Murray, who had reached a Masters 1000 clay court tournament semi final for the first time, after producing some stunning tennis all week. The Scot had reported an injured arm ahead of the match and there was some doubt on whether he would come out to play, however after taking pain killers, he did and put up, probably his best ever clay court performance. Indeed, after levelling the match at one set all, he looked the better player!
That was the first set lost by the world number one all week, and it clearly shook him, however, Murray’s injury was to re-surface at the outset of the final set and he was unable to play at anything like the same level. Nadal therefore ran out a three set winner, but will know, that if Murray recovers he could well be a ‘dark horse’ at Roland Garros.
The next Masters 1000 tournament takes place in Madrid at the beginning of May, which Murray will probably sit out, however, the tournament will see the return to action of world number two, Novak Djokovic who has not lost a single match this season and already has the Australian Open and two Masters 1000 tournaments in his bag. Djokovic missed out in Monte Carlo but he is well prepared to take on Nadal in Madrid where the two will be seeded to make the final.
The final tournament before the French Open, which starts on the 22nd May, is the Rome Masters 1000, which begins the week after Madrid and where once again Nadal will be defending the title.