In the battle of “streaks of 8”, Rafael Nadal managed to keep his streak running, and won his 8th consecutive Monte Carlo title. Novak’s unbeaten run against Rafa came to an end in 1 hour and 18 minutes, which was the second shortest match ever played between the two (the shortest was in Paris 2009, where Nole won in 1 hour and 17 minutes).
Novak started the match with an excellent hold to love, looking very sharp, but that would be his only easy hold. Rafa held with a few great serves, as he would for the whole first set – he lost only 4 points on his serve in this set.
Novak’s second service game saw both players hitting some great winners, and at that point, it looked as if they picked up where they left off in the Australian Open – long and interesting rallies. However, at 30-all, Novak hit two errors (one on his forehand and another on his backhand), and got broken. The next three games were easy holds for both, to bring the score to 4-2*.
In his next service game, Novak had some good points, but missed a ball at deuce, to give advantage and break point to Rafa. He saved it and then hit a great winner to get the advantage back. The last point saw Novak hitting a crazy angle, followed by his dropshot which Rafa couldn’t track down, and he held for 4-3.
Rafa had another easy service game, during which Novak had one great point – he hit a wonderful return (like THAT forehand from the USO2011 SF) and followed it with a backhand winner. However, Rafa held with an ace (which was called out, but overruled by Novak himself, who wiped the mark).
From that point forward, Novak’s level really dropped. In his next game he made several errors to go down 15-40, giving Rafa 2 set points. He save one with a serve and volley, but sent the ball out on the second one, losing the set 3-6.
While Rafa was serving first in the second set, it was Novak who won its first point, with a return-of-serve winner. Rafa took the next four points to lead 1-0. In the following game, Rafa won a point with an amazing angle volley, and then hit a winner off Novak’s dropshot. Novak sent a ball way out to give Rafa 2 break points, saved one of them with good play, but had a backhand error on the second.
The next game was all Novak’s errors, to give Rafa a 3-0 lead, and this was followed by another bad game, in which Rafa broke again – 4-0. Then suddenly, Rafa had his only bad service game, and Novak used the first out of 3 break points he had to break back for 4-1. This didn’t help much, since Novak immediately had a bad game himself, Rafa got 3 break points with a return of serve winner, and broke once again. He served out the match easily, with an ace on match point.
Overall, it wasn’t a good match for Novak, who couldn’t get fired up enough for such a tough match, and never seemed to believe that he could turn it around. However, he didn’t seem disappointed, and on a week like this, it is surely a huge accomplishment to be on the court at all, and to get to the final.
Novak was all smiles in the trophy ceremony, speaking a bit of French (he apologized for not playing a good match), and then in English. During Rafa’s speech, he complimented Novak on his last incredible couple of years, and then joked – “After seven times, thank you for this one”. Novak got hugs from everybody – Rafa himself at the net, and the Prince and Princess of Monaco after the ceremony.
Novak’s next tournament is supposed to be Belgrade, where he is the defending champion, one week from now.