Monte Carlo Masters final preview: Rafael Nadal vs. Kei Nishikori

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Rafael Nadal and Kei Nishikori are set to battle in what should be an exciting final in Monte Carlo. (Getty Images)

If you wanted to give a tennis fan of the future some idea of what made Rafael Nadal so tough to beat on clay, you could do worse than to hand them a tape of the first game of the semifinal he played against Grigor Dimitrov in Monte Carlo on Saturday. Dimitrov came out at full speed, hitting brilliantly and moving beautifully. He tracked down everything Rafa threw at him, and showed off his own shot-making genius in return. And after 20 minutes, he was down 0-3. Most players have to redline just to match Rafa’s every day game on clay.

Match point from Nadal's win over Dimitrov in Monte Carlo:

Can Nadal’s opponent on Sunday, Kei Nishikori, redline for long enough to make this final a contest? He has the shots and the wheels to do it. He has the down-the-line two-handed backhand that Novak Djokovic, at his best, used to open up rallies against Rafa. He has a forehand that he can use to control points. And he has the timing to take Nadal’s high-kicking topspin on the rise. Nishikori is just 2-9 against Rafa, but he won their last meeting, which was for a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and in 2014 he led Nadal by a set and a break in the Madrid final on clay before getting hurt and eventually retiring. Nishikori also shouldn’t feel too worried if he falls behind early; four of his five wins this week have come in three sets, and he battled back from a set down to beat Alexander Zverev in the semis.

Match point from Nishikori's win over Zverev in Monte Carlo:

But bringing up Nishikori’s road to the final only invites comparisons to Nadal’s. While Kei has dropped four sets along the way, Rafa has dropped none; he’s lost just 16 games. Nishikori should make a worthy, one-day challenger to the clay-king’s throne, but Rafa has been fending off those challenges for 13 years now. It goes without saying that Nishikori will have to play his best; but his best may not do.

Winner: Nadal

This Week on Tennis Channel Plus:

ATP Monte Carlo (4/15-4/22)
-Tennis Channel Plus has multi-court coverage of the 2018 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters beginning Sunday April 16 at 7:00 AM ET, first to last ball!

WTA Dothan (4/17-4/22)
-Don’t miss the Hardee’s Pro Classic featuring Taylor Townsend and Madison Brengle live on Tennis Channel Plus beginning April 17 at 11:00 AM ET 

Fed Cup (4/21-4/22)
-Tennis Channel Plus is your home for Fed Cup action! Watch live ties between USA vs. France and Germany vs. Czech Republic beginning at 6:00 AM ET on Saturday April 21

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