Rafael Nadal shows some skin moonlighting as an Armani underwear model and barely broke a sweat in a 6-2, 6-2 dress down of Gael Monfils today in Barcelona. Beneath a soupy sky in which the only thing brighter than Nadal’s canary-colored shirt was his boldly bruising forehand, the world No. 1 produced his most profound performance of the spring season, stretching his clay-court win streak to 32 matches.
Barcelona has been a clay-court catwalk for Nadal to showcase his entire collection of creative shots, and the five-time champion (2005-2009) turned this match into a cakewalk, raising his record in the Catalonia capital city to 28-1.
Playing his second tournament after a two-month absence from the tour due to a left wrist injury, Monfils must have been encouraged by his straight-sets sweep of fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the previous round, but any hopes of improving on his 1-7 history against Nadal were quickly nullified. Monfils’ expansive, elastic reach, eye-popping speed and sliding, skidding retrievals across the court have earned him the nickname “Sliderman.” But he hit the skids after holding to open the match and looked like competitive road kill after Nadal reeled off five straight games to seize control.
The top seed unloaded a flurry of forehands, including a vicious inside-out offering energized with so much spin it looked like it was sprung from a mini-trampoline, to serve out the first set at love. Nadal, who is starting to serve with more confidence and control than he did in Indian Wells and Miami, won 16 of 19 points played on his serve in the opening set.
When he’s healthy, confident and on his game, Monfils is one of the most explosive shotmakers in the sport. But against an overwhelming opponent empowered by the belief that no ball is beyond his reach, a muted Monfils was afforded little say in the outcome of rallies. Early in the second set, Monfils followed up a drop shot with a delicately-angled backhand. The ball was behind Nadal when he flicked his wrist with all the force of a man swiping a stray strand of lint off a table-top with a feather duster, leaving Monfils bamboozled by the sharp-angled, softly struck pass. When Nadal downshifts so dramatically—from slamming screaming forehands from behind the baseline to depositing whispered drop shot winners that elude even the fastest opponents—sometimes there’s little to do except smile at the absurdity of your predicament, which is precisely what Monfils did.
One of Nadal’s only miscues came on his first match point when he shanked a smash, sending a smiling Monfils scurrying away from the ball like a kid avoiding a dousing in a water balloon fight. A merciless Nadal sewed up the one hour, 15-minute match soon after when Monfils sprayed a backhand wide. One of five Spaniards in the last eight, Nadal has surrendered just 10 games in reaching the final four, where he will face either Davis Cup teammate Feliciano Lopez or Croatian Ivan Dodig.