Belfast Telegraph

Rampant Nadal still the king of clay

By Paul Newman

Novak Djokovic's domination over Rafael Nadal in the last 15 months had been such that even the Spaniard's billing as the king of clay was being called into doubt, but the world order on terre battue was re-established at the Monte Carlo Country Club yesterday.

Nadal's 6-3, 6-1 victory over Djokovic gave the world No 2 a remarkable eighth successive title in the Monte Carlo Masters and, more importantly, ended the Serb's long-running hold over his rival.

Since beating him in November 2010, Nadal had lost seven matches in a row against Djokovic, who also took his world No 1 ranking last summer. All of the wins were in finals, three were in Grand Slam tournaments and two were on clay. "Winning against Novak in the final after losing a few ones is important for me," Nadal said after becoming the first man in the modern era to win a tournament eight years in a row.

Nadal can always be relied upon to come alive at the start of the clay-court season. He has now won 72 matches in succession on clay during the month of April, while this was his 42nd win in a row in Monte Carlo, where he has dropped one set – against Andy Murray in last year's semi-finals – in his last 15 matches. Of his 47 singles titles, 33 have come on clay, while his 20 Masters Series titles puts him on top of the all-time list ahead of Roger Federer, who has 19.

"I've always loved this tournament," Nadal said. "It's an historic tournament [where] you see all your idols playing here when you are a kid."

This year's triumph was especially significant. Not only had Nadal failed to win a title anywhere since the French Open 10 months ago, but he had also gone into his first clay-court event of the year admitting the recurrence of a knee problem had left him "a little bit scared". Nadal said after his victory that the tendon problem in his left knee was painful but it was not restricting his movement. Nadal adapted to the breezy conditions quicker than Djokovic, who dropped his serve in only the third game. Another break gave the Spaniard the first set and he quickly went ahead in the second as Djokovic's errors multiplied. Djokovic broke back after trailing 4-0, but Nadal resumed control thereafter.

Djokovic, who did not lose until the semi-finals of the French Open in 2011 but has now lost three times this year, said he had been happy to make the final after an emotional week following his grandfather's death. "I definitely don't want to take away anything from Rafa's win," Djokovic said. "But it's a fact that I just didn't have any emotional energy left in me."

While Djokovic will return to Serbia to visit his grandfather's grave, Nadal will be playing in this week's Barcelona Open, where he is seeded to meet Murray in the final. Murray, who has a first-round bye, will start against Ukraine's Sergiy Stakhovsky or Russia's Evgeny Donskoy. The Scot is then seeded to meet Juan Ignacio Chela, Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer.

Cambodia made a successful Davis Cup debut, winning all five of their matches in Doha to earn promotion to Group Three of the Asia/Oceania Zone. Bun Kenny and Mam Pannhara won all of their singles rubbers in victories over Singapore, Qatar, Burma, Jordan and Turkmenistan. Cambodian tennis has been rebuilt following the death of 37 of the country's top 40 players during the Khmer Rouge's rule between 1975 and 1979.

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