For just the second time since he won the first of his 11 Monte Carlo titles in 2005, Rafael Nadal has lost before the Masters tournament's semifinal round.
In 2014, Nadal fell to countryman David Ferrer, a counterpunching nonpareil. Seven years later, a much heavier hitter took out Rafa: Andrey Rublev. The 23-year-old has eight titles to his name, and a No. 8 next to it in the rankings, but he may have never won a bigger match than he did on this quarterfinal Friday.
From the start, Rublev was opportunistic with his giant forehands and backhands, but he also benefited from an uncharacteristically poor day from Nadal on serve. The Spaniard struck five double faults in the first set alone, and quickly fell behind 6-2.
The second set was a far closer content, lasting over an hour and featuring exceptional stretches of play from both men—though for a time it appeared that Rublev could also run away with it. He had multiple chances to go up a double break, but after they had all passed, Nadal won the final four games to force a decider.
Perhaps most impressively of all, Rublev managed to put himself in the same position in the third set. And when he earned a break point to take a 4-1, double-break lead, he didn't squander the chance to finish off Nadal.
From there, Rublev earned a spot in the Monte Carlo semifinals, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2—and just as significantly earned his first win over Nadal, on clay.
More to come on this match from Steve Tignor.