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Of the eight consecutive titles that he has won on the burnt-orange clay of the Monte Carlo County Club, this was the one that mattered most. You don’t need to be able to peer directly into Nadal’s mind to appreciate that, had the Majorcan lost the final to Novak Djokovic, there would have been in fresh doubt in his head as to whether he can win this year’s French Open.
Nadal walked on to the clay on a run of seven defeats to Djokovic, and had that sequence stretched to eight, on a court where he has not lost since 2003 (he missed the 2004 tournament through injury), that would not have done significant damage to his psyche. Nadal left as the champion. You can always wonder how this would have played out if Djokovic had not had such an upsetting week – he had been left without any “emotional energy” after his grandfather Vladimir passed away earlier in the week, and he missed Saturday’s funeral in Serbia.
But there is little point now thinking about counter-factual history: the reality is that Nadal won 6-3, 6-1, and so, for the first time in 10 months, since last year’s French Open, he took the microphone and made a champion’s speech.
Now the world number one can travel to Serbia to visit his grandfather’s grave. “I obviously have to go to visit my grandfather’s grave and see, because I wasn’t there at the funeral on Saturday,” he said.
For today becoming the doubles world number one at the age of 38.
Just try finding a leading tennis player who believes that the decision to change the courts in Madrid from red to blue is an unequivocally brilliant one. “As far as I know, most of the top players I talked to, nobody agreed,” Djokovic has said. “I’ve never played on blue clay. Rafa didn’t. Roger didn’t. If you don’t have the top players agreeing on that, it doesn’t make sense for me really. It’s going to be interesting to step on the blue clay obviously. I’m not blaming them. But definitely there is a certain rule within the ATP that the president is able to make decisions by himself without having players agree to that. That rule has to be changed because it’s not fair.”
For refusing a visa to a Bangladeshi player, for a Davis Cup tie. There was speculation that the visa was refused because the player’s brother is an American citizen.
When, if ever, will we see another teenager make the same impact on the sport as Nadal when he played Monte Carlo in 2003 at the age of 16, beating the then French Open champion Albert Costa on the way to the third round? “The game is so physical now. That’s why it’s taking longer for guys to break through. They will, you know, eventually, but it’s not going to happen at 18, 19, like it was a few years ago,” Andy Murray has said. “Rafa was winning matches when he was 16 years old. Very, very difficult thing to do. He did that because he’s special. He’s one of the best players of all time. And Roger, the same. You don’t see guys like them coming around every couple of years. It takes a good amount of time before you’ll see a couple of guys like that again.”