Rafa Nadal Wins Monte Carlo La Decima Part One is Done

Nadal Monte Carlo

Photo courtesy of NWZonline.com

Rafa Nadal’s Monte Carlo Rolex Masters trophy win was a historic moment for the Spaniard and tennis, the fourth seed becoming the first man to win La Decima – ten men’s singles titles at a tournament – a moment big enough, luckily for men’s tennis, to cover up the cracks in an event beset by big upsets both inside and beyond the baseline. 

How promising it all looked on paper. Nadal’s run to a historic tenth Monte Carlo trophy was drawn to be the kind which, had it delivered, would have gone down in tennis folklore as a real odyssey retold around the fireside for years to come.

The first chapter versus Kyle Edmund, a player with a forehand built for clay, the match up with the least expectations leading into it, turned out to be the one most worthy of staying up for.

The second chapter looked like it was worth stocking up on coffee for, too. In the last 16, the draw scheduled, and delivered  in the sense that both men walked onto the court, a Nadal match versus Sascha Zverev, against whom Nadal had battled over five sets on his run to the Australian Open final. The match, however, was served up cold and unappetizing to anyone but the most fervent Nadal fans, the Spaniard giving Zverev a 20th birthday double bread-stick when the young German, his fans, and neutrals had hungered for generous helpings of cake.

Under the weight of Nadal’s return to clay court mastery, the rest of his draw seemed to fall apart, a quarter-final clash against Grigor Dimitrov, another Melbourne five setter rematch,  failing to materialize, the Bulgarian sliding back into one of his slumps rather than through the red clay into a one handed backhand winner. Instead, the Spaniard took on Diego Schwartzman, a growing clay court talent, scraping by in a sluggish straight setter late in the day, the Spaniard’s game worryingly blunt early on in sets, but sharpened wisely when matters reached a business end.

A semi-final versus a struggling Novak Djokovic, a first Nadal victory since Roland Garros ’14 on the cards, caved in to a semi-final versus David Goffin, a player pumped up after a career best win over the Serb, primed to turn Nadal’s run to la Decima part one into the bulky page turner Nadal fans had been hoping for, the match to give his charge to La Decima some real weight.

That potential thriller is now doomed to be retold as a horror story round the fire, the umpire Cedric Mourier taking it on himself to play the villain, recklessly and needlessly spilling blood on the clay, and not just Goffin’s, but spectators and armchair fans, too, who had been enjoying the early fireworks, Goffin getting off to the best possible start versus Nadal, the Belgian fighting through an eleven minute game, consolidating an early break to go 4-2 up in the first set after a Nadal shot was correctly called long by a line judge.

As Nadal accepted the call and got ready to serve and get back to business, Mourier descended from his chair, unprovoked by Nadal or the line judge, turning the stadium into an inferno, calling the shot long, circling what he thought was the mark before a disbelieving Goffin, calling the point to be replayed. Five minutes later, boos bombing the court with every Nadal point won where there should have been fireworks bursting and oohs and aahs, the Spaniard broke back for 3-3 and a shell-shocked Goffin won just one more game.

If Nadal’s draw had been an unfair asterisks on his run to La Decima, worse was to come in the form of criticism Nadal could have given the point to Goffin. Nadal, however, on the other side of the court and blind to the mark, left that responsibility to those whose job it is to decide such things. Two wins away from La Decima, Nadal was too busy contending with Goffin, an opponent on a mission, and not worrying about the damage an umpire was doing to his own reputation and to his opponent’s psyche, Nadal, killer instinct ever ready to ignite, smelling the blood spilling from Goffin and pouncing, displaying the kind of mental toughness and survival skills that get you within two wins of La Decima in the jungle that is men’s tennis.

Goffin

Photo courtesy of www.VestiMK.com

That mental toughness and those survival skills took Nadal all the way to the final, but not the final that many thought worthy of deciding La Decima part 1. That final was supposed to have been versus Stan Wawrinka, one of the best big match players around, one of just five multiple slam champs on tour, a fitting obstacle for a slice of tennis history. Instead, this final was to be played against a an ATP 1000 final debutante, and a countryman, the kind of opponent Nadal overwhelms in big matches like an ATP 1000 final, and, in one of the most historic matches of his career, Nadal gladly let history repeat itself, defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas, a man with the form, fight and forehand to bother him, but who Nadal reduced to a 6-1, 6-3 defeat in 76 minutes.

Six months after that painful last sixteen US Open loss to Lucas Pouille, when he had been once again on the comeback from injury, Nadal achieved what no male player, not even Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Rod Laver or Jimmy Connors, players to rival his longevity at the top, managed to achieve- La Decima, the first of a trio of potential La Decimas, Barcelona the next in line, then last but far from least, the third, La Decima at Roland Garros.

The Spaniard was unable to tell his first piece of La Decima history Federer fairy tale style, the draw collapsing like a deck of cards as his rivals battled more clay hardened rivals, injuries, and themselves, Murray losing from two breaks up in the third, Djokovic on the losing end of a tight three setter, Wawrinka upset in straights, Cilic losing from a break up in the decider. Nadal, meanwhile, made sure his La Decima did not turn into a nightmare, picking up a deck of cards landing more clumsily in the dirt than fans had hoped for, and with all the smarts and skills suiting a man on the verge of clay court and tennis history, spreading the cards out to reveal a red and gold peacock train, the upsets inside and beyond the baseline now hidden from view, all eyes instead on Nadal’s 50th clay court title, his tenth Monte Carlo trophy, La Decima.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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