MONTE CARLO • Rafael Nadal showed signs that he is in the kind of shape required to win his 10th French Open tennis crown next month, by ending his two-year wait for a Masters title with a ninth victory in Monte Carlo on Sunday.
The 29-year-old beat Gael Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 in his first series title since Madrid in May 2014 and as he ecstatically sank to his knees, the emotion in his moment of triumph clearly demonstrated the enormous surge of relief coursing through his body.
"It's obvious this has been a very important week for me," he said. "The victory here confirms that I am better and I am enjoying this moment."
The match was his 100th ATP World Tour final and the victory took him level with Novak Djokovic as the most prolific collector of Masters series titles, with 28 to his name.
Just over a year ago, the King of Clay admitted to a crisis of confidence and went on to suffer damaging defeats on this surface by Djokovic (Monte Carlo and French Open), Andy Murray (Madrid), Stan Wawrinka (Rome) and Fabio Fognini (Barcelona).
"Playing at a very high level I think is so important and that's what I needed," said Nadal. "Winning nine times here is something unbelievable for me. Last year was tough, but I don't have those feelings I had on court. I'm still not 100 per cent perfect, but everything is much, much better."
As he headed yesterday to Barcelona, where David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori will be his main threats, he might ponder that he faced 47 break points throughout his week in Monaco and had his serve broken 13 times. But, more importantly, he exacted clay-court revenge on leading contenders such as Wawrinka, the French Open champion, and Murray.
"I hope it helps my season with confidence for the next few tournaments," Nadal said of his 68th career title. "I've been able to play well for two events in a row - Indian Wells (he lost to Djokovic in the semis) and here - winning against very tough opponents so that is very good for my confidence.
"I have another chance next week in Barcelona, I going to try my best again."
Nadal can tie Argentinian Guillermo Vilas' record of 49 clay-court titles on home soil this week. He will start against a fellow Spaniard, with Marcel Granollers or Daniel Munoz de la Navas awaiting him in round two.
He could meet Fognini again in the quarter-finals, as he has been handed a tricky draw with compatriot Ferrer potentially awaiting in the semi-finals.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
ATP BARCELONA OPEN
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