Monte-Carlo Masters 2017: History man Rafael Nadal makes it 10 in Monaco and 50 on clay
Rafael Nadal beats Albert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets to win the Monte-Carlo Masters for a record 10th time
History and the record books were lined up against the world No24, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, when he took to one of the most beautiful courts in the tennis tour, the centre stage of the Monte-Carlo Masters.
The quietly spoken Spaniard who, just one year ago, was ranked No50, was at a career-high ranking after putting together the best 12 months of his career—and he is now 29 years old—and thus far one of his best ever runs in a season.
He won his first title last summer in Bastad and had since reached two more final, most recently in Sao Paulo this spring. But until now he had never even made a Masters quarter-final let alone a final.
It had not been an easy journey to this final match in Monaco, though: He had beaten the world No1 Andy Murray, No8 Marin Cilic and No17 Lucas Pouille, all in three sets.
Yet that counted for little in the over scheme of things, for it brought him to a showdown with the best clay player of them all, his compatriot Rafael Nadal.
To make matters worse, Nadal had barely broken a sweat since dropping a set in his opening match against Kyle Edmund. But the Nadal reputation must have looked like the side of mountain to a Ramos-Vinolas who had grown up watching the achievements of his illustrious colleague.
For Nadal has dominated the clay season since winning his first Masters in Monte-Carlo as a teenager and going on to win the first of seven Rome Masters and the first of nine French Opens just weeks later.
And now it was entirely possible that he would make history in Monte-Carlo: the defending champion was aiming to claim his 10th title in the Principality—and no other player in the Open era has won any tournament 10 times.
But then the numbers when it came to this Spaniard on his beloved clay were already jaw-dropping: 20 of his 28 Masters titles have been on the red dust; he surpassed 400 matches on clay in that Edmund match at the start of the week; and with the Monte-Carlo title, he would reach 50 titles on clay—another record.
Perhaps last summer, there were some who wondered whether he could again become the man to beat after his dramatic withdrawal during the first week of the French Open with a wrist injury. He went on to play just five more events, closing his season with a first-round loss in Shanghai.
But ranked No9 at the start of 2017, he proved just how resilient and determined he is. With finals at the Australian Open, Acapulco and Miami, it has taken some outstanding tennis to beat him, and that has come largely at the hands of old rival, the rejuvenated Roger Federer—three times, indeed.
However Federer opted to bypass most of the clay season, it was looking as though few others could halt a Nadal surge on clay.
And so it proved come the final as he pressured the Ramos-Vinolas serve in the second game. He failed to convert three break point chances, but the writing was on the wall, and come the fourth game, Nadal broke to love for a 3-1 lead. Another break for 5-1 and Nadal had the first set in his sights, and after just 30 wminutes, even given a time-violation warning, Nadal had got a grip on the match 6-1.
Ramos-Vinolas had played aggressive and inspired tennis throughout the tournament, even coming back from 0-4 down in the final set against Murray. But here, he seemed in thrall to his compatriot, dropping into the baseline rhythm on which Nadal thrives.
Sure enough, the champion was now beginning to pound his looping forehand with authority, and was even taking to the front of the court to finish points with smashes or touch volleys. As the Sky commentary pointed out, Ramos-Vinolas was “feeding the beast”, and Nadal lapped it up—all the more so once he had a break in the second set, 3-2.
The younger man needed treatment to his right hip after the seventh game, perhaps not surprising given his hours on court this week—and he had, of course, played one more match than Nadal, as the top eight players in Monte-Carlo enjoy byes in the first round.
Nadal held for 5-3 with an ace, and took control of the final game. Ramos-Vinolas saved the first two championship points but double faulted on the third: Nadal had his 10th Monte-Carlo title, 6-3. It had taken just an hour and a quarter, a master-class in clay tennis from Nadal that produced 21 winners for only nine errors.
Not only was this Nadal’s 50th clay-court title but his 70th career title, and there is every reason to expect those numbers to rise in the coming weeks. Next up is Barcelona, where Nadal also has nine titles, followed by Madrid and Rome, and the clay season culminates in the French Open where—yes—Nadal will also go for a remarkable 10th title.
When the rankings are published tomorrow, Nadal will be back in the top five, but more impressive for Ramos-Vinolas, he will reach a new career-high of No19—and will probably be relieved to see Nadal in the opposite half of the draw in Barcelona next week.