Nadal plays down favourite tag

MONTE CARLO • Top-ranked Rafael Nadal insists he will not take it easy, despite sweeping aside Grigor Dimitrov to ease into his 12th Monte Carlo Masters final with a 6-4, 6-1 victory yesterday.

The 31-year-old, who needs to win an 11th Monaco title to retain the No. 1 ranking ahead of Roger Federer, will face Kei Nishikori in today's final. The Japanese beat Germany's Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the other semi-final.

"Every year is different and equally special," said Nadal, after beating Dimitrov for the 11th time in 12 meetings.

"So I'll just focus on doing the things that I have to do to give me another chance tomorrow. That's it. I don't want to think about another title yet, I just want to think about the way I have to play and try to be ready for it."

The top seed is bidding for an outright record 31st Masters title today and extend his run of consecutive sets won on clay (34).

Nadal, playing in his first ATP tournament since he retired from his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic in January with a hip injury, has shown no signs of rust. He has lost only 16 games in four matches the past week.

The Spaniard came through a tight first set yesterday, but always looked too strong for his world No. 5 opponent and raced through the second in half an hour.

He saw a 3-0 first-set lead slip away as Dimitrov laid down the first real challenge to Nadal the past week, only for a sloppy service game from the Bulgarian to hand him the opening set.

Nadal broke to love in the second game of the second set. Eight straight points on his opponent's serve saw him storm towards the finishing line, and a wide Dimitrov backhand wrapped up another comfortable victory.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ATP MONTE CARLO MASTERS

Final: StarHub Ch201, 8pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 22, 2018, with the headline 'Nadal plays down favourite tag'. Print Edition | Subscribe