After losing the first set to Rafael Nadal in just 25 minutes, Gael Monfils needed to do something different. Rushing forward while Nadal, at the net on the other side, was preparing to smack an overhead? That certainly qualified. (Watch the highlights to see how that turned out.)
Ah, Gael. We never quite know what you'll give us. This week, the Frenchman unveiled some new clothes, a fresh hairdo and yet more kooky shots. In so many ways, he's the opposite of Nadal, who won the Tokyo final 6-1, 7-5. Rafa, still clad in the highlighter-green garb that he wore at the U.S. Open, has been as reliable as a clock this season, winning wherever he goes with a time-honored strategy. This time it was in Asia, while many of us were sleeping.
From the onset, it was Rafa's day. His forehands connected like a boxer's jabs and the depth of his shots pushed Monfils even further back than normal. The beginning of the match resembled a first-rounder, not a final. Monfils challenged Nadal in the second set, but the Spaniard served like he's done all year—with scary efficiency—and was never broken.
Nadal now has seven titles this year, including three Grand Slams and three Masters 1000's. His performance this week indicates that he's probably not done. Where do we place this season on the list of all-time great campaigns? It reminds me of Federer's remarkable 2006 season—things seemed to move in slow motion for him, but in superspeed for everyone else: They couldn't keep up.
Rafa's 2010 season is near the top of the tennis pantheon already. And there's still room for growth.