Rafael Nadal added another trophy to his cabinet today. The world number one manhandled fifth seed Gael Monfils 6-1,7-5 to collect his first prize at the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships.
Following a comfortable opening game, Nadal put the Frenchman on his heels and broke. Subsequently, with an easy game, Nadal consolidated for a 3-0 lead. As Monfils’ racket bled mistake upon mistake, Nadal closed out the initial set in just 25 minutes.
As a defensive player, Monfils would have a great shot at victory by camping out in the backcourt against any other opponent. However, when it comes to Nadal, any strategy which involves overpowering the Spaniard from the baseline is not only risky, but usually a losing one. Therefore, Monfils altered his game plan slightly resulting in a competitive second set.
By varying his serve, Monfils held without difficulty to start the set. Still, the issue for Monfils was finding a way to rattle Nadal’s serve. Serving at 2 all, with two winners from Nadal, Monfils got himself into a tight spot at love-30. Yet, with a sensational pick-up on a low volley and good serves, Monfils stayed in front for 3-2. Monfils’ best opportunity at manufacturing a break point arrived when Nadal double faulted for 30 all. But, the Frenchman failed to pressure the Spaniard so the set was equalized at 4 a piece. After falling behind love-30 again, Monfils managed to rescue the game and remained ahead at 5-4. Nadal is quite stingy in handing get out of jail free cards, thus, eventually Monfils would have to pay for his miscues. Serving at 5 all, Monfils misfired on a forehand down the line and had the ball go under his racket on an attempted volley. Next, Nadal connected on a forehand winner up the line for double break point. As Monfils approached the net, Nadal flicked a forehand return winner up the line to bank the break and secured a 6-5 advantage. Later, on his first champion point, Nadal watched Monfils’ return sail long and celebrated yet another title.
In accepting the runner-up trophy, Monfils congratulated Nadal on being the better performer. Despite the result today, the Frenchman was positive in saying “it was a great tournament . . . and I love to come here”. Turning to his coach, he stated “not a win, but maybe next time”. Indeed a productive week for Monfils; he took out second seed Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals. Countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also rejoined the tour at this tournament but suffered a first round defeat.
A stupendous championship for Nadal who salvaged two match points in the semifinals against Victor Troicki. Nadal wished Monfils the best of fortunes for the rest of the year, particularly in Davis Cup final, France plays Serbia. His debut event in Tokyo, Nadal has been overrun by fans wherever he shows up and the world number one was appreciative commenting “the crowds are fantastic . . . it was my first visit, but certainly not my last”. The champion even ended with a couple of words in Japanese to express his gratitude. From Japan, the ATP travels to Shanghai for a Masters’ 1000 series event.