Monte-Carlo Masters 2017: Champion Nadal survives Edmund as Murray makes winning return
Rafael Nadal is through to the last 16 of the Monte Carlo Masters, as British number one Andy Murray also progresses to the next round
On an increasingly overcast Wednesday, there were more ‘firsts’ than the Monte-Carlo fans could shake a stick at as the 56-man draw funnelled into the last 16.
No3 seed Stan Wawrinka counted this tournament as his first and only Masters title to date. His tall, young opponent, Jiri Vesely, ranked 54, had one particular claim to fame in the Principality: He beat Novak Djokovic in the top seed’s first match here last year to mark the Czech’s first win over a top-10 opponent.
Andy Murray, this year’s top seed, was playing his first match since losing his opener in Indian Wells more than a month ago, having been side-lined by an elbow injury. He was playing veteran Gilles Muller for the first time on clay, and Muller’s biggest claim to fame came earlier this year when he became the first man from Luxembourg to win an ATP title.
No9 seed Tomas Berdych took on the evergreen Tommy Haas, back for one last year after a career of multiple surgeries. The popular German beat Benoit Paire to score his first win in Monaco since 2004, becoming the oldest man to win a Masters match in the process.
No11 seed Lucas Pouille played as a seed in Monte-Carlo for the first time this year, having reached the third round last year ranked 82. He took on yet another veteran in 35-year-old Paolo Lorenzi, who was aiming to reach the third round for the first time.
And there were first meetings for seeds scattered throughout the terraces of the beautiful Monte-Carlo Country Club: No12 Roberto Bautista Agut against Diego Schwartzman; No14 Alexander Zverev against Feliciano Lopez; No13 Pablo Carreno Busta against Karen Khachanov.
And perhaps the headline match of the day also featured a first-time meeting between No4 seed Rafael Nadal and the 45-ranked Briton, Kyle Edmund.
Although the famous Spaniard had become an all too familiar presence in Monte-Carlo, he too was going for his own special ‘first’: No-one else has won 10 titles at a single tournament during the Open era, but Nadal could do so in Monte-Carlo. He could also jump to first in the list of top clay-court titlists with his 50th—what would be his 70th title overall.
Playing in his 400th match on clay, Nadal was naturally the hot favourite to beat the 22-year-old Briton, who had beaten compatriot Dan Evans in their own first-time main tour meeting to earn his place centre stage.
For even putting to one side Nadal’s clay prowess, the Spaniard had bounced into 2017 after an injury-marred season with real form and intent: runner up at the Australian Open, Acapulco and Miami.
But with one set down after 28 minutes, a 6-0 near-whitewash during which Edmund won just 11 points, this had the makings of a rout.
Perhaps it was nerves: This was not just the Briton’s first match against Nadal but his first time in Monte-Carlo. Now, though, Edmund began to assert his considerable power and fitness. In the second set, he won his first game on serve, and then pulled back a break and broke again to take a 4-2 lead.
Nadal levelled, but the Briton’s forehand was becoming devastating, and he got another break at the end of a compelling set to level things, 7-5.
Edmund continued to battle aggressively in the decider, and had Nadal under pressure from the start. Even so, it was Nadal who got the first breakthrough, countered by a stunning sixth game from Edmund that was sealed with back-to-back forehand winners.
The Briton was by now out-hitting Nadal in winners, up to 30 compared with the Spaniard’s 17, but with two hours on the clock, Nadal broke again as he forced three straight errors from that Edmund forehand. Edmund had a chance to level again in the eighth game, but Nadal held on for 5-3 and pressed home his advantage with a final break, 6-3.
It continues to be an extraordinary story that Nadal weaves in Monte-Carlo. He is now just one win short of 60 at this tournament, but he knows he will face a severe test in his next match against Zverev.
The rangy, powerful German will aim to celebrate his 20th birthday in style by making it third-time lucky against Nadal. The young player has been tipped for future Grand Slam success, and all his talent came to the fore in his two previous meetings against Nadal. In the first in Indian Wells last year, he had match point in a thrilling three-setter, and in their Australian Open meeting in January, Nadal again found himself behind, two sets to one, before coming through in five.
Zverev, who already has one title this year, was in blistering form against Lopez, too, winning in a scant hour, 6-0, 6-4.
As for those other ‘firsts’, Murray worked himself into form from a break down in the first set to surge through a love break, 5-5, a love hold, and another break for the set, 7-5, with a glorious drop-shot.
After an exchange of service breaks at the start of the second, Murray brought up the crucial break point with a cross-court backhand pass, and Muller shanked a return to concede the break and match, 7-5.
Murray now faces No15 seed Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who beat Carlos Berlocq, 6-2, 6-2. The winner will go on to meet either No5 seed Marin Cilic, a convincing winner over Jeremy Chardy, 6-3, 6-0, or Berdych, who denied Haas one more win in a tight three-setter, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Wawrinka and Pouille also maintained their runs in the top half, but in the bottom half, Bautista Agut became the second seed to leave the tournament, beaten by Schwartzman, 6-3, 7-6.