Turns out this week in Monte Carlo wasn’t about Roger Federer’s comeback, but instead about Rafael Nadal’s! Nadal came into the European clay season with just one single solitary Top 40 win on what had been a dismal season. But after today’s win over Andy Murray in the semifinals, that’s three straight Top 15 victories. Rafa is back! Or is he?
Today, Nadal was simply overwhelmed by the big-hitting, aggressive-minded Murray early in the opening set, but then roared back to take the match going away 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to his 10th Monte Carlo final and collect arguably his biggest win of the season.
Naturally, Nadal was thrilled with the result and his play this week, which – no surprise – comes on his favorite surface.
“It’s a very important week for me, being in a final here again in Monte-Carlo, winning against very tough opponents,” Nadal said after his 17th career win over Murray. “That’s a lot of great confidence, good news for me. Let’s see if tomorrow I can playing at the same level.
“I am trying my best every single day. I want to be today better than yesterday and tomorrow better than today, and after tomorrow better than tomorrow. That’s it. That’s my work today, and that’s my motivation.”
So finally all that talk of feeling better, more confidence, etc., is translating on the court. And tomorrow he’s staring at his biggest title in almost two years when he won Madrid by a fluke retirement.
Meanwhile, Murray came out hot but couldn’t sustain it, almost resigning in the end.
“I played a good match today,” said Murray. “It wasn’t perfect. But apart from the one game at 3-1 in the third, I played good. I missed some shots. But you have to obviously take chances against the best players. If I don’t do that, you know, then you lose anyway.
“I do feel like I played a pretty good level match today for the most part. Obviously there was a few dips. But that can happen. Also Rafa is allowed to play well sometimes, too. So you have to give your opponent credit.”
Still a good week for Murray as the clay season begins, but this is Rafa’s moment, and tomorrow the 8-time Monte Carlo champion will be the big favorite against the suddenly-subdued Gael Monfils.
The hyperactive Frenchman has toned down his act all year under coach Mikael Tillstrom and it’s paying off nicely. He hasn’t dropped a set this week and today he thrashed his countryman JW Tsonga 6-1, 6-3 to reach his third Masters final, first on clay.
Life is good for La Monf!
Now to my pick.
Rafael Nadal v. Gael Monfils
Oh if only Novak Djokovic….oh nevermind. Rafa is here, so too is Monfils, and he’s a worthy foe. So that works for me. And right now, at age 29 Monfils is playing maybe the best tennis of his career. Composed, focused, restrained and all business now. Would you believe that’s Monfils? Never.
Nadal’s not where near his peak, but at least he’s playing better as evidenced by wins this week over Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka and now Wawrinka. He’s not back, but there are at least signs of his former self.
And tomorrow he should win. Nadal owns Monfils winning 11 of 13 largely based on the match. Nadal is offensive. Monfils is defensive and stands so far back he gets into trouble.
This year, though, Monfils is stepping up more into the court and taking more balls on the rise. To have any chance, he’ll have to do much more of that against Rafa, otherwise Rafa will just stand on the baseline and run Monfils ragged which is what he’s done throughout his career.
Both the Frenchman’s two wins came on the quick courts in Doha. Monte Carlo is not Doha!
Also, Nadal has won Monte Carlo eight times in nine finals. Monfils has never won a title this big and in his career he’s been horrible in finals winning just five of 23 title matches!
Again, Monfils has changed, but has he changed enough? The jury is still out. Monfils uses that big serve to keep things interesting and that defense to force errors, but Nadal is too tough and too committed to closing out the week in perfect form. This is too big an opportunity to let slip.
The pick: Nadal in three
Tennis Channel will have live coverage starting at 8:30am ET.
SUNDAY MONTE CARLO SCHEDULE
CHEDULE – SUNDAY, 17 APRIL 2016
COURT RAINIER III start 11:30 am
 P. Herbert (FRA) / N. Mahut (FRA) vs  J. Murray (GBR) / B. Soares (BRA)
Not Before 2:30 pm
 G. Monfils (FRA) vs  R. Nadal (ESP)
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