Enter, the king of clay
There will come a time when Rafael Nadal will be the one sitting high in a place of privilege at the Monte Carlo Country Club with the azure Mediterranean laid out before him and the best players of that future era playing below.sports Updated: Apr 19, 2011 00:08 IST
There will come a time when Rafael Nadal will be the one sitting high in a place of privilege at the Monte Carlo Country Club with the azure Mediterranean laid out before him and the best players of that future era playing below.
Those men, whoever they are and wherever they hail from, will be chasing Nadal's legacy, and one sincerely wishes them luck. They will need plenty of it.
No man or woman in the 43-year-old Open era has dominated a tournament to quite the degree that Nadal has dominated the Monte Carlo Masters. His 6-4, 7-5 victory over David Ferrer on Sunday gave him his seventh consecutive title there.
Steffi Graf won Hamburg on clay six straight times during her peak from 1987 to 1992. Martina Navratilova won six straight Wimbledons from 1982 to 1987 and won in Chicago six straight times from 1978 to 1983.
But Nadal has now given everyone from the Twitterati to historians a new number to munch on. You now need to shift to other sports - Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tours de France come to mind - to find equivalents.
"Much more than a dream, never in my life could I have imagined that I'd do this," Nadal said on Sunday.
Since losing to Guillermo Coria here in the third round in 2003 and then missing the 2004 tournament with an injury, he has won 37 straight matches in Monte Carlo. Finals were best-of-five sets in those days and Nadal, in his pirate pants and sleeveless shirt, won 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5. It was his first significant individual title.
This year, Nadal looked shaken at times, particularly on Saturday in the semifinal against Andy Murray, who wrested the second set from Nadal with a potent blend of offense and defense. He had Nadal reacting instead of dictating.
It used to be nigh impossible to judge the score from Nadal's body language, but there has been a shift in recent seasons. He is revealing more under pressure than in the past, and there was much for him to dislike in that second set Saturday, as he made 18 unforced errors to go with just three winners.
But Nadal is nothing if not resilient, and Murray could not stay with him in the third. With seven titles in a row, it is partly Nadal's court now, whether he is sliding on it himself or watching his successors chase his long shadow on some sunny spring afternoon in the future.