Prince Albert sported a silk suit in the royal box, while Bono wore a rumpled t-shirt closer to the court. Both Monaco monarchy and rock royalty were part of a packed house that watched the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, march through a minefield of mortal mistakes to extend his historic red-clay reign in Monte Carlo.
In an uneven final which veered from enthralling exchanges to nervous miscues, Nadal summoned some timely shotmaking to capture his seventh straight Monte Carlo Masters championship with a 6-4, 7-5 sweep of David Ferrer in today’s all-Spanish final. The world No. 1 collected his record-extending 19th Masters title in raising his Monte Carlo record to 39-1. Nadal's lone loss in the Principality came to Guillermo Coria in the 2003 round of 16, when he was 16.
It was not vintage Nadal. He looked tight at times, left too many balls short in the court, committed 30 unforced errors and complicated matters by squandering a second-set lead. But even when he’s not at his best, Nadal can fall back on his love for a good fight, problem-solving skills and comprehensive court coverage to find the finish line.
This was a rematch of the Australian Open quarterfinals, where Ferrer beat an ailing Nadal in straight sets. It was the 16th meeting between the friends, and familiarity made for both bruising baseline battles and uncharacteristic errors, as both men tried to impose their preferred patterns of play. Ferrer earned break points in Nadal’s first three service games, but converted just one of his six chances. Nadal, on the other hand, broke twice in four opportunities in the 75-minute first set.
Even for a grinder as fit, fast and feisty as Ferrer, winning a war of attrition with Nadal is as futile as trying to top Atlas in a shoulder-press contest. In the last six years, Roger Federer is the only man to beat Nadal on clay after losing the first set. That stat would hold up after today's proceedings.
In the second set, at 1-all, Nadal kissed a running forehand pass down the line, which flirted with the top of the tape before hugging the corner of the court for the break. But a nervous Nadal wacked a wild backhand wide of the sideline as Ferrer broke back for 4-all. Then it was time for Ferrer's nerves to show. He clanked a double-fault, followed by sprayed forehand in the 11th game to donate Nadal a 6-5 lead. The top seed went on to unleash an inside-out forehand winner for a second championship point and closed the two-hour, 16-minute match on a Ferrer error.
Shrugging off successive Masters final losses to Monte Carlo resident Novak Djokovic in Indian Wells and Miami, Nadal claimed his 44th career title and first since Tokyo last October. It is Nadal’s 30th career clay-court title, tying him with Bjorn Borg and Manuel Orantes for third place on the Open Era clay-court championship list. At the age of 24, Nadal trails only Hall of Famer Guillermo Vilas (45) and Thomas Muster (40) for most clay crowns in the Open Era.
Given his undiminished appetite for final Sunday success, it seems certain Nadal will continue to bite into big silver Sunday brunches for the foreseeable future.