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Roundup: What Monte Carlo Means for…

Posted on April 19, 2010 by Rob York
ATP Masters Series Tennis Tournament, Final match, Rafael Nadal vs Fernando Verdasco

After 11 months without a title, Nadal's sixth Monte Carlo title was a tasty treat.

Rafael Nadal: The point that encapsulated the difficulties Nadal’s opponents face on clay took place in the final with the top-ranked Spaniard serving at 1-0. Having surrendered his opening service game at love, Fernando Verdasco had suddenly found his forehand on his compatriot’s serve, ripping a pair of winners to force a deuce.

Then, during an intense rally on the deuce point, Nadal rifled a flat, sharply angled backhand Verdasco could not reach to set up game point. Verdasco had Nadal on the defensive here, finishing with a backhand volley so acute that it would have reached the stands before it bounced a second time. And that was where Nadal was when he reached it, flicking a backhand that clipped the line on the opposite side of the court.

At his very best, Nadal refuses to concede any points on clay. That’s why he lost only 14 games in five matches (an average of a little less than three per opponent) this past week. That’s why Verdasco raised his hands in celebration upon winning a single (very long) point in the second set.

And that’s why Nadal’s opponent on Sunday had pretty much surrendered the match once he was broken in the second set. Nadal has much the same effect on clay court opponents that Bjorn Borg did in the late-’70s, turning every point into at least a 5K.

The demands of the tour have increased since Borg’s halcyon days, and no one shows that more clearly than the oft-injured Spaniard. Still, after an 11-month title drought, his imperious performance in Monaco shows him poised to trim the gap between Borg’s record of six titles at Roland Garros and his own mark of four.

And his decision to skip Barcelona this week and save his energy indicates how much a fifth RG means to him.

ATP Masters Series Tennis Tournament, Final match, Rafael Nadal vs Fernando Verdasco

Fernando Verdasco found that a fearsome forehand is not enough on clay against Rafael Nadal.

Fernando Verdasco: Going into the final with Nadal, I had begun to think

of the similarities between Verdasco and Jim Courier, another player overshadowed by more famous compatriots who won primarily through a huge forehand and fitness.

That Verdasco had outlasted the big-hitting Tomas Berdych – fresh off his finals appearance in Miami – to reach the quarters showed his endurance to still be formidable. Likewise, his rout of Novak Djokovic showed how dangerous his first-strike capabilities are when at their best.

One game into his final with Nadal I reconsidered, because there’s simply no way a competitor like Jim Courier would have dropped his opening service game to love against one of his contemporaries. Having held serve for the first time early in the second set, there also would have been no chance of

Courier double-faulting on two consecutive points at 1-all when up 40-15. If Verdasco had the mental strength to match his stamina, he would probably still have lost Sunday’s final, because first-strike capability is not enough against Nadal on clay. We’d be have been given a much closer match, though, and left with a lot fewer doubts about Verdasco’s future.

Novak Djokovic: The top-seeded Serb appeared rejuvenated by the clay with his drubbing of David Nalbandian in the quarters. By the following day, when he’d taken just four games from Verdasco, we were left to wonder if there were yet another injury at play, or if the problem wasn’t physical.

Either way the results are not encouraging, but that may save the Serb’s fans a lot of disappoint when he falls short in Paris.

ATP Masters Series tennis Tournament match, Rafael Nadal vs Juan Carlos Ferero

A respectable performance against Nadal may boost Juan Carlos Ferrero's stock leading up to Paris.

Juan Carlo Ferrero: There once was a time when seeing a former RG champion like Ferrero take just six games off younger player would’ve been considered a disappointment. When that younger player is Rafael Nadal and no can duplicate Ferrero’s feat of winning four games in a set from him, it becomes a sort of accomplishment.

Now 30, Ferrero has won two titles this spring and is looking like a good bet for an appearance in the second week of the RG, something he hasn’t done since he won it in 2003.

Andy Murray: The good news is that the clay season ends in June, and that anything Murray does between now and then is a bonus.

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