Besting Rafael Nadal on a clay court is undoubtedly the ultimate challenge in tennis. And following the Spaniard’s near-impeccable week at the Principality, it would take a sizeable upset of epic proportions to stop him on his beloved red dirt. He will put a seal on a perfect week at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters on Sunday if he beats Kei Nishikori. A title win at this event will be Nadal’s 11th, and he will be gunning for an historic treble of eleven titles in Barcelona and Roland Garros in the next month.
Nadal has lost just one match on his favorite surface in the last 12 months (a quarter final defeat to Dominic Thiem in Rome in 2017). Yet it was the young Austrian whom Nadal so convincingly beat in the quarterfinals yesterday for the loss of just two games.
Thiem is widely regarded as Nadal’s closest challenger on clay on current form and his impressive results on the surface, but he was no match for the World No.1 when he lost the first nine games on the trot yesterday.
The Majorcan was tested to the limit during his semifinal against Grigor Dimitrov, and at one point in the opening set the Bulgarian surpassed the Spaniard on winning baseline points (20 to 18). But once Nadal upped the ante, he was in no mood to hang around. Nadal clinched the opening set 6-4 breaking serve at the tail end of the set. Extraordinarily, that was his 33rd successive set he had won on clay, breaking his own personal record and continuing to raise the bar. Dimitrov’s challenge was now to do what no man had done for nearly a year – taking a set off Nadal on clay. Unfortunately for the Bulgarian World No.5 there was no such fairytale. Nadal breezed through the second set and secured yet another straight sets win to progress to the final.
Both players are due to appear at Barcelona Open next week, but there are serious questions on Dimtrov’s physical form when he seemed to be hurting in the second set. For Nadal though, he will hope to get the job done on Sunday before embarking on another piece of history at his home country next week. It is hard to imagine this is Nadal’s first competitive tournament since retiring due to hip injury at the Australian Open in January. He will need to defend his Monte Carlo title to stay on top spot.
According to data from ATPWorldTour.com, Nadal with his win over Dimitrov has improved to 395-35 win-loss record on clay (which translates to 92% winning ratio), the highest by any man on a clay court, besting the likes of Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Villas, Ivan Lendl and Novak Djokovic who make up the top five list.