Sunday, April 18, 2010

Clay King Returns in Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal has finally won his first title since winning in Rome last May. His win in the Monte Carlo Masters has got to be so satisfying for the Spaniard who endured a tough 11-month title drought which included a heartbreaking fourth round loss at the French Open, a withdrawal from Wimbledon, a dismal showing at the World Tour finals, and a smattering of semifinal appearances. With his win here, he also becomes the first player to win six consecutive time in the same event AND pulls himself into a tie with Roger Federer with 16 Masters titles, both just one shy away from record holder Andre Agassi's tally.

All of that and he did it in style routing Fernando Verdasco 6-0, 6-1. For the entire tournament, Nadal only lost 14 games dishing out a bagel in three of his five matches. While it's been a tough road for Nadal, there's no denying that he is still THE player to beat in red clay. He will no doubt be particularly hungry to defend the rest of his clay titles from last year AND regain his French Open crown.

The question mark, of course, is Roger Federer, the man who last defeated Nadal at a Masters tournament and who is the defending French Open champion. His first clay tournament is not until Rome. His non-Slam results for the past few months have been less than desired, but he is undoubtedly the second best clay-court player the past few years.

Other players to look out for would be Novak Djokovic who lost in the semifinals in Monte Carlo to Verdasco and Robin Soderling, the only man so far to defeat Nadal in the red clay of Roland Garros.

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