MONTE CARLO, (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal became the first man to win the Monte Carlo Masters five times in a row when he beat Novak Djokovic 6-3 2-6 6-1 in yesterday’s final.
The Spanish world number one underlined his status as hot favourite for a fifth consecutive French Open triumph at Roland Garros when the claycourt grand slam starts in five weeks.
The 22-year-old improved his personal record against Djokovic to 12-4, but the Serb showed the colossus could be beaten when he managed to win the second set, the first Nadal has dropped in the principality since the 2006 final.
“First of all, congratulations to Novak anyway. A fifth victory here is a dream coming true. Thank you to everybody and see you next year,” Nadal said in his post-match speech.
“Congratulations to Rafa and his team. You guys are unbelievable, well done again,” said Djokovic, who has lost his seven matches on clay against Nadal.
Nobody has matched Nadal’s performance in the Monte Carlo tournament since tennis turned professional in 1968.
Briton Reggie Doherty won the event six times, from its inception in 1897 until 1899 and from 1902 to 1904, while New Zealander Anthony Wilding won it four times in a row from 1911.
Djokovic came out on centre court all guns blazing, opening a 3-1 lead as Nadal was struggling with his serve.
The Spaniard hit back hard, winning five games in row and breaking decisively in the seventh at his fourth attempt when Djokovic sent a backhand wide.
The Serb had his back massaged at change of sides before pocketing the first two games of the second set.
Nadal threatened to come back again, finding outrageous angles with his devastating forehand.
Off balance, he fired a forehand winner down the line to set up a third break point in the fourth game, which Djokovic saved at the net.
Nadal was clearly on the back foot and a forehand that went long gave Djokovic another break and he followed up on serve to open a 5-1 lead before levelling the match with an ace.
The climax of the match was an astonishing, body-punishing, 14-minute first game in the deciding set.
Nadal staved off a break point after an amazing run to recover a drop shot and he saved two others before keeping his serve. The Spaniard then broke his opponent to move 2-0 up, only for Djokovic to break back. But the effort proved too much for the Serb, who twice double faulted when he was serving at 40-30 and advantage in the fourth game.
Nadal converted a break point when a Djokovic forehand clipped the top of net and bounced out, and then never looked back, wrapping it up on his first match point when the Serb netted a backhand.