Rafael Nadal is only a win away from winning his 11th Monte Carlo title and taking sole possession of the maximum number of Master’s series title as he plays Japan’s Kei Nishikori in the final on Sunday at the Monte Carlo Country Club. Nadal, who is tied with Novak Djokovic, for the most Masters1000 with 30 titles at this level. Both advanced in contrasting styles on Saturday to set up a 12th meeting between the two, Nadal leads Nishikori 9-2 in their career head to head.
In the first Semi-final on Saturday, the top ranked Spaniard who needs to retain his title to remain on top of the world rankings ahead of Roger Federer of Switzerland, got off to a perfect start as he broke Dimitrov in the second game and then held his own serve for a 3-0 lead. The day before Nadal had lost only two games in his annihilation of Dominic Thiem and it looked as if the fourth seeded Bulgarian would also meet a similar fate.
To his credit Dimitrov fought back to 3-3 as he broke Nadal at 15 in the fifth game. Both players held serve but in the tenth game Dimitrov served two double faults and missed forehead that enabled Nadal to take the first set 6-4 in 65 minutes. In the second set Nadal broke twice and wasted little time in winning it 6-1 in only 28 minutes. The winning scoreline was 6-4,6-1 in one hour thirty two minutes. Nadal has now won 34 consecutive sets in 13 matches on clay since his loss to Dominic Thiem in May 2017 in the quarter finals of the Rome Masters. It is the sixth time that he has reached the final in Monte Carlo without dropping a set.
Kei Nishikori who was out of action for second half of 2017, won his fourth three-setter in five matches this week to become the first player from Japan to reach the final of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. He defeated the third seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany 3-6,6-3,6-4 in two hours and thirteen minutes. In the opening set Nishikori double faulted at gane point on 3-3 and dropped serve in the seventh and ninth games to hand Zverev the first set 6-3.
The German who turned 21 on Friday recovered from 0-2 down in the second with three straight games but then lost the next four as Nishikori claimed the second set 6-3 to force a decider. It meant that Zverev would contest his fourth straight three-setter this week having beaten Giles Muller of Luxembourg, countryman Jan Lennard Struff and then the Frenchman Richard Gasquet who became the first player from France to register 500 match wins on the ATP Tour. Nishikori has already played three four setters against former finalist Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, Italian Andreas Seppi and the be second seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia.
Each player saved two break points in their first service games of the decider and Nishikori survived a ten minute game to lead 4-3 in the third set. He went on to claim his tenth match win of the season as he broke in the tenth game of the decider.
While Nadal is bidding for his 31st Master’s title, Nishikori will become the first player from Japan to win at this level in what would be his fourth Master’s final. In his previous appearances in a final, he lost to Nadal in Madrid in the year 2014 as he retired due to back injury after dominating Nadal in the first set and a half, and then lost the Miami and Toronto final to Novak Djokovic in 2016. He will become a fourth straight first time winner of a Master’s title joining Jack Sock (Paris 2017), Juan Martin Del Potro (Indian Wells 2018) and John Isner (Miami 2018).
While Nishikori has lost all three previous meetings on clay against Nadal, he beat the Spaniard at the Rio De Janeiro Olympics in 2016 to claim the bronze medal. Nishikori has won two titles on clay in Barcelona in the year 2014 and 2015 before losing to Nadal in the final while going for a hat-trick. Nishikori is assured of rising 15 places from his current ranking of 36, but a win on Sunday will see him rise another eight places to no. 13.
Prediction :- Too much at stake for Nadal. He needs to win to retain number one ranking, to take sole possession at 31 Master’s series title, a record he currently holds at 30 apiece with Novak Djokovic. He will also extend his own record to eleven titles in Monte Carlo. Nishikori has already played four three setters and remains to be seen how much gas left in the the tank as he attempts the ultimate challenge of beating the Spaniard on clay. Nadal in straight sets with possibly one set going to a tie-break.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]