Clay King Nadal back with a bang

April 19, 2010

TENNIS-MEN/MASTERSClay King Rafael Nadal is back. And if his knees hold up it’ll take a miracle to stop him winning a fifth French Open title in Paris starting next month.

The Spanish world number three was on breathtaking form at the Monte Carlo Masters, dropping just 14 games in his five matches, and became the only player in the Open era to win a tournament for six straight years.

His 6-0 6-1 demolition of compatriot, Davis Cup team mate and friend Fernando Verdasco ended an 11-month, injury-plagued title drought and the Mallorcan collapsed to the floor at the end of the match before breaking down in tears.

“For me (today) is very emotional,” said the 23-year-old, who equaled Roger Federer’s 16 Masters trophies and conceded the fewest games of his career en route to a title.

Spain’s As sports daily put Nadal’s dominance on clay down to a number of reasons:

“He can get into position and hammer his forehand with time to spare.

“Serves and returns which hurt him on hard courts are diluted on clay. He’s hitting his backhand better. He intimidates, asserts himself and dominates: with mental strength.”

Marca newspaper said he had sent a message to his opponents: “He’s still the best player on clay right now. And of all time?”

Manacor-born Nadal is due to defend his title at the Barcelona Open this week, an event he has also won the past five years, although Spanish media reported on Monday that he may pull out.

The punishing European clay-court calendar was blamed for the knee problems that hampered him last year so he could opt to rest before next week’s Rome Masters, with the Madrid Masters to follow in mid May.

Verdasco, whose appearance in the final put him back into the top ten, summed up what it’s like to play Nadal:

“With Rafa you must play all the time perfect to win one point. Even sometime when you play a good point he wins that point because it’s really, really difficult to attack him.

The normal thing is to lose against him and it would be really, really strange to beat him.”

PHOTO: Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates after his victory against compatriot Fernando Verdasco during the final at the Monte Carlo Masters, April 18, 2010. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau.

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