I already stated that Rafa had started to look like the good old days here, but little did I know the level of flashback feeling I got when he rushed off to a 3-1 lead with both his forehand and movement looking like it was 2008. I thought the match would be over within the hour. But the real surprise of the final wasn’t Nadal’s retro level of playing, but Monfils soaring to heights I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. He was battling Rafa eye-to-eye from the baseline with massive top-spin, great side-to-side movement and some spectacular forehand winners. It felt like the set could go either way, but Nadal toughed it out, 7-5 in the first set.
Was the match over? I partly thought so. A 6-2 comfortable set for Nadal seemed like the likely way it would end. But in a set that was back and forth, back and forth, Monfils ended up breaking Nadal three times and lose serve twice which meant, to the crowd’s excitement, that it was one set all.
Over two hours had passed on the clock. The match had held the drama and rally-quality of a five-setter already. I felt tired just by having to watch the 30-stroke draining rallies – not bored, emotionally exhausted and I had the feeling that Nadal had more in the tank. He almost always has.
It was a bit of a bummer end to a fantastic encounter, but understandably Monfils fizzled out and Rafa’s intensity remained in a finishing bagel that put Nadal to his knees first and with his head to the ground afterwards. The relief on his face was immense. He was back on the throne in Monte Carlo. Yet again, the king of clay.