Australian Open: Nadal d. Monfils
MELBOURNE—It looked, for a short time, like the third-round match between Rafael Nadal and Gael Monfils here on Saturday night was going to be a marathon. The first two games required 16 minutes, four break points, and a dozen long, fast-moving, side-to-side rallies. Both games were also won by Nadal. It would be that result, rather than the extended process it took to get there, that would be the harbinger of things to come in this match.
Monfils threw what he could at Rafa. He belted his forehand, shattered his backhand, and dropped a 133-M.P.H. second-serve ace on him. He smacked nine other aces, made 70 percent of his first serves, and hit 33 winners, 12 more than Nadal. Yet Monfils lost 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 in a relatively rapid one hour and 44 minutes.
La Monf lost in part because, along with those 33 winners, he made 57 unforced errors and gave up one service break by double-faulting three times. But mainly Monfils lost because Nadal played, as he said afterward, “my best match of the tournament so far.” Nadal was moving well from the first game on, so well that even a rolled ankle that had him limping to the changeover at 1-2 in the second set—and bringing back memories of his tournament-ending injuries here in 2010 and 2011—didn’t wind up slowing him down. Each set featured hard-fought tennis at the start, and capitulation by Monfils at the end.
As he had in his first two matches here, Nadal served with pace and bite. He hit a few in the 125-M.P.H. range, and used his serve well when he needed to—Rafa saved all six break points that he faced, and Monfils won just 27 percent of points on his return. Nadal was equally good with his forehand, which he tomahawked confidently from behind the baseline. Best, though, was his backhand. He moved Monfils wide when he went crosscourt with it, and he was able to counterpunch effectively out of the backhand corner. Nadal’s focus on the fast courts seems to have helped him. Tonight he played with purpose and wasn’t pushed backward, even by Monfils’ ground-stroke bombs. Rafa hit 21 winners and made 18 errors; more important, and more impressive, was the total point count—Nadal 107; Monfils 70.
This had been billed by Channel 7’s Jim Courier as a “danger match” for Rafa. If 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 is dangerous, what are the scores of a safe and easy match going to be? We may find out in the fourth round, when Nadal takes on Kei Nishikori. In their five previous matches, Rafa has lost one set. And that was on grass. In 2008.