There will come a time when Rafael Nadal,sunglasses in place,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 like a banquet and the best players of that future era grinding and sliding below.
Those men,whoever they are and wherever they hail from,will be chasing Nadals 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.
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 Armstrongs seven straight Tours de France come to mind to find equivalents.
Much more than a dream,never in my life I have imagined that Id do this, Nadal said in Spanish,before switching briefly to French. Merci beaucoup.
His opponents certainly should not thank him. 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. Coria might not have seen this coming,but he certainly saw something coming back before he met Nadal in the 2005 final when he labeled Nadal,then just 18,the best clay-court player in the world. 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,one that set the tone for all the other significant victories to come on clay and other surfaces. He was not at his suffocating best last week. His best came last year in Monte Carlo when he had more to prove to himself and the field,when he ripped through all opposition and destroyed his Spanish compatriot Fernando Verdasco,6-0,6-1,in the final.
On shaky ground
This year,Nadal looked shaken at times,particularly on Saturday in the semifinal against Andy Murray,who during this tournament broke free of his extended funk and wrested the second set from Nadal with a potent blend of offence and defence. He had Nadal reacting instead of dictating,and shrugging his shoulders on occasion,too. It used to be nigh impossible to judge the score from Nadals body language,but there has been a shift in recent seasons. Though he is hardly Marat Safin (or Murray) in this department,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. Nadal and Ferrer were to fly there together on Sunday night. They remain friends even as their paths continue to cross with regularity in meaningful matches. Perhaps in some not entirely explored corner of Ferrers mind,there was a sense of how much work,how much sweat would have been required to pull off a comeback against Nadal on this court.