nadal bests federer in monte carlo

Posted on April 27, 2008

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There was no third-time lucky for Roger Federer against his greatest nemesis Rafael Nadal on clay at Monte Carlo today.

Nadal proved to be impregnable on the red dirt, solidifying his dominance by winning the Monte Carlo Masters for a historic fourth time, 7-5, 7-5. His record against the Swiss star is now 7-1 on clay and 9-6 in career meetings.

It must sting Federer badly to have been up 4-0 in the second set only to let it slip away, as Nadal pulled off a spectacular comeback not only to take back the breaks he lost to Federer, but to break the world number one for the sixth time in the deciding game to take the championship.

Federer and new coach Jose Higueras will have much post-match analysis to do on why Federer did not manage to push Nadal to a third set, and to try to replicate the form that saw him racing ahead in the second set.

But while Federer might have lost in straight sets to Nadal today, he should take consolation at a better-than-in-the-past showing against Nadal on clay.

For one, Federer’s break point conversion against Nadal was impressive today, at an 80 per cent rate, or 4 out of 5 times.

He was able to capitalize on Nadal’s mistakes at the start of the match, taking the game at the first chance and creating some discomfort in Nadal. Unfortunately, Federer found himself unable to hold on to his own serve, immediately allowing Nadal to break back on two occasions in the first set, and get back into the match.

Tactically, Federer has improved dramatically against Nadal on clay. Recognizing that he cannot sit back and allow Nadal to dictate and wear him down with punishing rallies, Federer bravely took to the net to finish off points, to great effect on many occasions.

Though Federer’s loss could be pinned down the excessive unforced errors he made, there is a silver lining. If he could figure out a way to keep those unforced error down and ramp up his first serves, he has a much better chance at closing the gap against Nadal.

Perhaps it is also time that Federer and Higueras came up with a solution to his backhand. Nadal peppered shots at Federer’s backhand repeatedly and it bore fruit, forcing multiple errors from Federer, who barely made any winners from that side.

But coming on the heels of a rough start this season, Federer should be happy at his performance in Monte Carlo. He looks like he is back on form, putting the early-season slump behind him. He has also developed more tricks on clay. If he could muster greater hunger and will to win, that could bode well for his quest to win the French Open next month, the one Grand Slam title that has denied him.

Nadal though, was in a class of his own today. Most other players would have given up the set at 0-4 down, but Nadal’s indomitable spirit kept his chances strong. His extraordinary rally from being so far behind is a masterclass in self-belief and courage. He is giving notice that the French Open will not leave his grasp easily.

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