In their first final meeting of 2008 at the ATP Masters Series tournament in Monte-Carlo, Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer 7-5, 7-5. This victory marks the first time since the 1910’s that the same individual has won this trophy on four consecutive occasions.
Federer started the match well by breaking Nadal’s serve in the very first game, but the Spaniard broke back right away wiping out the advantage. After things settled down, in the 7th game with Nadal serving, Federer built a 0-40 advantage courtesy of two drop shots and went on to take the lead 4-3. Yet, on the next game, poorly executed shots and a net court friendly to Nadal leveled the match at 4-4. Nadal continued to apply pressure on Federer’s service, his tactic of almost exclusively playing to Federer’s backhand began to click whereby through the 11th game of the first set, Federer had committed 8 unforced errors on that side while failing to produce a single winner. As Federer went down 15-40 on his serve, Nadal proceeded to break him for the third time and took the set 7-5.
Nevertheless, in the second set, Federer appeared to shake off the disappointment of losing the first and came out swinging, grabbing a two break advantage and a 4-0 lead. Unperturbed by this new development, Nadal broke Federer to get to 2-4. Then on the subsequent game, Rafael held at love to narrow the deficit to 3-4. In the 8th game, Federer saw his lead evaporate when Nadal broke him at love to equalize things at 4-4. At this stage, as Federer’s first serve percentage was going south and his unforced errors were going north (16 unforced errors to 8 winners), Nadal obligingly assumed the initiative. At 4-5, Federer continued to walk the plank, yet, clung to his serve despite a difficult game. A poised Nadal held once again at love reverting the pressure to the other side of the net. Now, it was Federer’s turn to extend the set into a tiebreak. After multiple chances to prevail in the game, Federer missed some uncomplicated shots anew. With the first opportunity of an ad point, Nadal converted and shut the door on Federer’s chances at winning his first ATP Masters Series title of the year. Probably the most telling statistics of the match was the fact that Federer made 23 winners and 44 unforced errors while Nadal had 15 winners and committed only 20 unforced errors.
Nadal continues to look at home on clay, producing the type of shots that stump his opponents. The Spaniard had an unblemished road to the finals, winning all his matches in straight sets against Mario Ancic, Juan Carlos Ferrero, David Ferrer and Nikolay Davydenko. On the other hand, Federer was lucky to reach the finals after being down 1-5 in the third set and two points from defeat against Spanish qualifier Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo ranked 147. Granted, from that stage on, Federer tidied up his game. Roger was particularly impressive in the quarterfinals after losing the first set against David Nalbandian 5-7, 6-2, 6-2. The same can be said against Novak Djokovic who ended up retiring with a “sore throat” after the Serbian lost the first set, was broken twice in the second and was three games from being ousted. In the finals, for at least the first four games of the second set, Federer appeared to have a reply to Nadal’s game. This included using the drop shot, not one of Federer’s favorite, and the forehand down the line followed by the rush to net which have produced positive results for Roger during this tournament. As Federer goes forward this clay court season, perhaps, coach Jose Higueras and he will come up with a formula which works for the duration of the match on this surface and particularly against Nadal. After all, Nadal’s strategy is no secret, on clay play to Federer’s backhand. For Nadal, this is only the first of many clay court titles to defend, he will be in action next week in Barcelona where he will be searching for his 100th victory on the red dust in the last 4 years with only one lost. Absolutely incredible!