Monte Carlo: Nadal d. Kukushkin
When Rafael Nadal wins a tennis match in just over an hour (literally—60 minutes, four seconds) you know it was less of a contest and more of a drubbing. That was certainly the case today in an untroubled, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Mikhail Kukushkin to reach the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo.
Kukushkin, currently ranked 68th, has one win over a Top 10 player in his career, and would have needed to play several orders of magnitude better than he did to trouble Nadal today. Broken to love in the first service game of the match, it was 0-4 to Nadal before Kukushkin even began to get his feet under him, and there was never any question of the Spaniard being seriously troubled. Outclassed and outgunned on every level, Kukushkin held serve once before being broken for the third time—and the set—just 27 minutes after the match began. He would hold once more—for 1-1 in the second set, a game which took seven minutes—but it was the last game he would win. Despite a couple of nicely-struck backhand winners, Kukushkin never looked comfortable or prepared handling Nadal’s weight of shot. On the other hand, Nadal had no trouble running around the ball for his preferred cross-court forehand, hitting 16 winners before the match was over.
If Nadal was tentative yesterday, he was quite the opposite today. Energized and dominant, he served at a ridiculously high level, losing just six points on his serve in the entire match and throwing in a fistful of aces to boot. He was also hitting deeper into the court than he has for some time, always an ominous sight for his opponents, and threw in some touch shots for good measure, including a backhand lob while serving for the match at 5-1 which should make the tournament’s highlight reel. Whatever the reason for the urgency with which he played today—rejoicing in feeling clay under his feet again, a desire to get away from the rumbling thunder in the skies above (per his book, Nadal is 'not comfortable' with thunder and lightning) or just trying to get off court before the intermittent rain began again—with the exception of one unconverted break point there was little he could have done better today. If he can turn in a similarly dominant performance in the next round against a tougher opponent in the shape of Nicolas Almagro or Stanislas Wawrinka, he should have every confidence going into the weekend.