Rafael Nadal seeks his first Masters-level title since 2014 when he faces Gael Monfils in Sunday’s Monte Carlo Rolex Masters final. Nadal is 11-2 against Monfils all-time with a 4-0 record on clay.
(5) Rafael Nadal vs (13) Gael Monfils
Nadal finds himself in position to win his first ATP World Tour title since July 2015. Nadal rebounded from a poor first set to erase Andy Murray from the draw with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 win. After seeing Murray win the majority of the rallies in the opening set, Nadal secured a break to open the second set as he set the tone for the rest of the semifinal. Nadal began to work more aggressive tactics with his ground strokes as he pushed Murray back further on the court and broke the Scot twice on three chances. In the third set, Nadal would break Murray two more times and win 12 of the 23 points played off the second seed’s serve. Rafa took full advantage of Murray’s inability to land his first serve. The Scot put just 50 percent of his serves in play, allowing the Spaniard to see 43 second serves, where he won 24 points.
Monfils had few issues in dispatching Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semis. Monfils won 6-1, 6-3 as Tsonga had very few answers in the match. Tsonga would win just 25 of 57 service points as he was broken six times on eleven chances. Monfils didn’t play pristine tennis by any stretch of the imagination, struggling especially with his second serve. La Monf would win just two of nine second serve points and was broken twice in the match. He did a good enough job with his first serve, landing 81 percent in play to win 27 of 40 points.
This will be Nadal and Monfils’ first meeting since Stuttgart last summer. Nadal beat Monfils in straight sets en route to the grass court title. Rafa has dominated the last three matches with one being played in each year from 2013. The lefty has lost just one set out of eight, winning six of those seven sets without dropping more than three games.
Serve is a point where Nadal has been able to break down the Frenchman in the past, especially on second serve. That will be a sticking point in Sunday’s final with Monfils not looking great this week when forced to go to his second serve. He’s won 34 of 60 second serve points, but has been struggling in that category more the last three rounds. The 13th seed will need to land a strong percentage of his first serves in play to avoid letting Rafa get a lot of good looks at his weaker second serve.
Both players are at home banging the ball from the baseline, so don’t expect them to stray too much from those tactics in the final. Nadal has been at his best this week when he has been able to dictate play from the baseline and he’s been able to find some of his best aggressive ground strokes when he’s needed them most this week from the baseline.
For Monfils to have a shot, he’ll need to bring a big serve that he does possess. The Frenchman has had major issues finishing off tournaments throughout his career with a 5-18 mark in finals. He hasn’t won since Montpellier in 2014. Despite the perceived notion that Nadal is past his prime, the Spaniard has been good when he has worked his way to finals in the past two seasons. Through 2014 and 2015, Rafa is 7-4 in finals.
This is a huge spot for both players, but The Pig still gets that feeling that Nadal needs this more and wants this more. Monfils wasn’t even expected to be here, but has had the benefit of Novak Djokovic being upset in the top half of the draw. It’s already been a good week for him. For Nadal, the only way to consider the week a success is to finish with a win. Nadal needs this title and if he can bring the level of play he has shown for most of the week, he should get it.
Nadal wins in straight sets