Novak Djokovic may call the principality of Monaco home but Rafael Nadal has emphatically laid stake to this patch of red dirt – an eighth straight crown at the Monte Carlo Country Club, with a lop-sided victory over the world No.1.
The second-seeded Spaniard broke a seven-match finals losing streak against his Serbian rival for a 6-3, 6-1 ledger to clinch his first title since Roland Garros last June.
It was the pair’s first meeting since that epic 5hrs 53mins Australian Open final in January and allowed Nadal to break a deadlock with Roger Federer, becoming the first player to claim 20 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns.
The 25-year-old Nadal did not drop a set all tournament, converting five service breaks and winning 85 per cent of his first-serve points in the decider after 79 minutes.
“To start the clay-court season winning here is amazing feeling … this tournament is very special for me,” Nadal said.
“My level of tennis was high during the last four matches, since the second round. My level of tennis was very high. Today the first set was the higher moment during all the week, no? For that reason I must be very happy.
“Sure, the last win against Novak in final after a few ones losing is for sure important result for me.
“So is important to break that situation.”
For an out-of-sorts Djokovic, it marked the end of an emotional week having learnt of his grandfather’s passing last Thursday.
Twice he rallied from a set down, first against Alexandr Dolgopolov and then against Andy Murray’s quarter-final conqueror, Tomas Berdych, to reach the Monte Carlo final.
“I definitely don't want to take away anything from Rafa's win. I mean, he deserved to win today. He was a better player,” Djokovic said.
“But it's a fact that I just didn't have any, I think, emotional energy left in me. So I was there physically, you know, game-wise I was playing okay throughout the week. But, yeah, it was a bad day. If I wanted to have any chance of winning against Rafa on clay, you know, I needed that extra gear, which I didn't have.”
Nadal was quick to acknowledge the Serb played well below his best in the final but admitted it was all part of the game.
“No, Djokovic wasn't the real best Djokovic (today),” he said.
“In other finals that I played against him, I wasn't my real best, too. But the real best are both. The real Rafa is not only when I play my best. The real Rafa is when I play well, when I don't play that well. If I take that for myself, the same for the others.
“Win 6-3, 6-1 is for sure not normal to win against the best player of the world today.”
While the clay-court king’s mental resolve never wandered during the final, the scars of letting a fifth-set lead slip in the longest Grand Slam final in history were still bare.
“When you lose seven times, when you are in Australia have 4-2, 30-15, easy backhand down the line, that stays in your mind, no?” he said.
“So to break this confrontation about the seven loses, you have to be very focused all the time, no?”
With the tournament’s top seeds sitting out first-round byes, much of the early focus was on Croatian stalwart and former world No.3 Ivan Ljubicic, who bid farewell to professional tennis with a first-round loss to countryman Ivan Dodig.
For all the reports and results from Monte Carlo, visit the official Monte Carlo Rolex Masters site
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