After arguably one of Nadal’s most dominant weeks on his beloved clay court surface, world no.1 Rafael Nadal capped off a perfect week on Sunday with an unfathomable eleventh Rolex Masters Monte Carlo crown, dispatching Japanese Kei Nishikori in straight sets under the scorching Monte Carlo sun: 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 33 minutes.

If ever an upset was unlikely it would have been today. Kei Nishikori came into the final having a 0-3 head to head record on clay versus Nadal. Although the Japanese world no.36 did beat Nadal last time around at the Olympics in Rio the odds beforehand didn’t bode well for Nishikori. Having had to play no less than four three-set matches showed that Nishikori pulled out all the stops to came through to face Nadal. Add to that his recent injury woes concerning his wrist, the main cause for his lack of match practice the last couple of months, and one could paint a bleak picture.

Nishikori’s resurgence to beat the younger Zverev brother in the semi-final was rather impressive, must be said. But did he have enough in the tank to challenge the King of clay? Could he finally break though on Masters 1000 level and claim his first title in his fourth Masters 1000 final appearance?

Again the word ‘unlikely’ comes to mind. The King of clay had only relinquished 16 games en route to his final birth, swatting away usual pesky opponents in Dominic Thiem (quarters) and Grigor Dimitrov (semi-final).

Nadal loading up the RPM’s on his most feared shot

Nadal’s form leading up to the final was indeed impeccable. Could he have been any more impressive? His second serve had better winning percentage figures than his first serve at times. Quite remarkable. In any case, it was up to Kei Nishikori just to live with Rafa from the get-go. Where many other opponents faltered during their very first service game, their game started unraveling fast with Nadal’s confidence rising simultaneously, reflecting a perfect osmotic quality.

Early on, however, Kei was up to the task. After Nadal claimed the opening game to 15, Nishikori wrestled through five deuces before he held to level at 1-1. Nishikori then upped his game to earn himself breakpoints on the Nadal serve which he converted with a scintillating backhand get up the line off what seemed a potent Nadal drop shot. The crowd on center court erupted with amazement. Could a tight match be on the cards after all?

Nadal’s reply would be instant. Applying pressure from the back of the court up to the point that a double fault from the challenger meant the match was back on serve. Four points later another statement was made by Nadal as he held to love to keep his nose in front at 3-2.

Nadal’s backhand at this point was inflicting some serious damage. Nishikori couldn’t sustain his occcasional brilliant shotmaking and got broken to 30 to hand Nadal the initiative in the first set, leading 4-2. After surviving another break point Nadal extended that lead to 5-2.

Nishikori got the grit back in his teeth to reduce the arrears to 5-3, but couldn’t survive the onslaught of powerful forehands in the next game. The 31-year old title holder bagged a contentious first set on his second try and he was mightily pleased about that. It was 56 minutes of riveting shotmaking from both mixed with some uncharacteristic errors. Nishikori even boasted a slightly better winners to unforced errors ratio with his 9-13 compared to Nadal’s 9-14 but when the important points were played Nadal was always there to seize them.

The second set started shaky for Nishikori, immediately having to save a break point. In the third game Nadal’s defense was incredible. A miracle running backhand on the line got the defending champion the break he wanted to lead 2-1. Umpire Lahyani had to come down from his chair to convince the player from Japan that he indeed just had been broken.

It was not Nishikori’s day

With Nadal holding to love disaster struck for the 28-year old player from Japan, getting broken again to trail 4-1. Signs were ominous now Nadal was stretching the lead in the second set the way he had done all week. As Nadal made it 5-1 Nishikori’s eyes were looking weary.

At 5-2, with Nadal serving for the match, Nishikori could not muster up any energy to threaten the Nadal serve again.
Nadal capitalized on his first match point with a backhand cross court winner and raised his arms to the skies, showing a big grin to his player’s box in jubilant fashion.

Nadal’s latest triumph comes exactly 50 years after the tennis Open Era began in 1968, when professionals and amateurs were allowed to compete against one another, issuing a new age in tennis. How far the game has progressed since then. One of tennis’ biggest flagbearers celebrated that milestone today by clinching his 31st Masters crown, an unprecedented eleventh Masters title in one single tournament. And his name is Rafael Nadal.

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