Another Year, Another Monte-Carlo Final For Rafa
The Spanish superstar, who struggled for backhand consistency at times, knocked out fourth-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-1 in their 12th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting over one hour and 32 minutes at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. It is the sixth time that Nadal has advanced to the tournament’s championship match without dropping a set.
“I think I played solid,” said Nadal. “It had been a very hard first set until the 4-all. A lot of tough games. Yes, I made a big mistake at 3-1, I played a very bad game. Then he came back… I really had a lot of chances in the first set. I was little bit lucky he hit two double-faults at 4-5, and one missed with the forehand. That gave me the advantage and then [I played] a good point to finish the first set. In the second, I think he started to miss more. He missed more than usual. I was solid there. That's all.”
Nadal will now look to clinch his 11th crown at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament on Sunday against Kei Nishikori of Japan.. If he does improve upon his 67-4 record at the event, which was first staged in 1897, then Nadal will start his 171st week at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings on Monday. A loss in the final would signal Roger Federer’s return to the top spot. Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who lost to Dominic Thiem on Thursday, have both won a record 30 Masters 1000 trophies.
“It’s a tough final, as a Masters 1000 should be, against a great opponent,” said Nadal. “With Kei, we had a lot of good matches in our career. I know I have to play at my best to keep having real chances of success. It’s an important match for me tomorrow.”
While Nadal worked his way to a 3-0 lead, Dimitrov was never out of contention as the Monte-Carlo resident hugged the baseline to take the ball early. Consistently deep ball striking from Dimitrov was rewarded with errors from the racquet of Nadal, who was broken to 15 at 3-1. The Spaniard then mis-timed two backhands — one on a break point chance — in the next game to allow Dimitrov back to 3-3.
Nadal missed out on a break chance while leading 4-3, which would have allowed him to serve out the set, but he played a waiting game and converted his second set point opportunity with a powerful forehand that cleaned the line to end an entertaining 65-minute set.
From 4-4 in the opener, Nadal grabbed all of the momentum, winning seven straight games. The Spaniard broke Dimitrov’s serve to love on two occasions in an error-strewn second set, courtesy of forehand errors from the Bulgarian. Nadal closed out his 11th victory over Dimitrov when the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion made a backhand error.
“I'm just going to take only the positives out of the match,” said Nadal. “It's great to be able to play three, four matches back-to-back. It was great to start again on a good note. I mean, today was also maybe the match that I moved the best out of everything. I see, like, a lot of positives for the upcoming weeks. Again, despite the result, I think physically also I'm at a good level, in terms of moving well.”
Nadal, who is contesting his second tournament of the year following a hip injury sustained in the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, leads Nishikori 9-2 in their series of matches. The 31-year-old Nadal has a 10-1 mark on the season.
Dimitrov, who was appearing in his fifth Masters 1000 semi-final (2-3), captured his first crown at this level in August 2017 at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati (d. Nick Kyrgios). He is now 14-7 in 2018, including a runner-up finish at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam (l. to Federer).
Did You Know?
Rafael Nadal has now won 34 consecutive sets on clay. Not one of those sets has gone further than 6-4.