The Spaniard Ousted Early Again

24 06 2013

For the second straight year, Rafael Nadal has followed up a thrilling championship at the French Open with a bizarre early exit at Wimbledon, and for the first time in his professional career, he has failed to get out of the first round of a Grand Slam Tournament. In a memorable first day at the All England Club, little-known Steve Darcis of Belgium was able to rattle the mighty Spaniard and take him down in straight sets 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4.

The usually very defensive Nadal was attacked over and over by the 135th ranked player in the world as Darcis remained aggressive throughout the entire match. The Belgium went for his shots, took the game to tournament’s fifth seed and picked up the victory of his life because of it.

Nadal took extended time off earlier in the year to deal with a knee injury, and it’s possible that his body wasn’t able to fully recover from all the stress he put it through at the French Open (as seems to happen far too often). Nevertheless, a loss like this from one of the “Big 3” is nothing short of dumbfounding.

In 2008 and 2010, Nadal was able to raise the trophy in both Paris and London. During this time period, he was ranked No. 1 in the world, won an Olympic gold medal and had everyone forgetting the name Federer; however, these past two Wimbledon results make it seem as though Rafa is having more difficulty transitioning from clay to grass.

It’s amazing how the narrative surrounding Nadal has drastically changed in only a few short weeks. Some might begin to question the long-term durability of the “King of Clay.” However, he’s only 27, and he has made the finals in 6 of the last 9 Grand Slams, so it might be a little short-sighted to write-off this great player.

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Federer Finally Finishes Victorious

16 06 2013

August 19, 2012.

This was the last time Federer won a tennis tournament. That statistic is no more.

Roger Federer took down unranked Mikhail Youzhny 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 at the Gerry Weber Open Sunday to claim his first title since he took down Novak Djokovic at the ATP Western & Southern Open 6-0, 7-6 (9-7) last August.

This German tournament showcased grass courts that Federer not only loves to play on but also used to prepare himself for Wimbledon, which begins in about a week. Of the seven Wimbledon titles Federer has claimed, four of them came after winning this German tournament.

No matter whether or not you’re a fan of the 31-year-old Swiss with 17 Grand Slams, this can only mean good things for the upcoming major tournament. Unlike other team sports, the individual sport of tennis is at its best when the powerhouses face off against each other and the no-name underdogs are taken down along the way.

Novak Djokovic. Rafael Nadal. Roger Federer. Andy Murray (kind of).

These are the guys we want to see in the semifinals so we can experience tennis at its highest level.

With Federer’s title drought finally coming to an end, his confidence is assuredly much higher and his chances of making it far in Wimbledon for an eventual faceoff against one of his “Fab Four” counterparts are higher as well.

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Rafael Nadal: Set In Clay

9 06 2013

Rafa has done it again.

After his marathon match on Friday against Djokovic, Rafael Nadal was able to dispatch fellow Spaniard David Ferrer with relative ease today, winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 and collecting another French Open trophy. With this win, he becomes the first male player to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event. This tournament truly belongs to Nadal as over the past nine years he has incredibly only lost one match. One. Furthermore, eight of his 12 major titles have come at Paris, and no one can deny that he truly is the king of clay.

Nadal has cemented himself among the all-times greats. If it weren’t for his persistent injuries, Nadal might be challenging Roger Federer on the all-time titles list. As it stands, he is tied for third with Roy Emerson, sitting two behind Pete Sampras and five behind Federer who has 17 total titles. However, recent history has shown that Nadal usually gets the best of his rival in Grand Slam matches, so if he can maintain his health for a couple more years, Roger’s record might be in jeopardy.

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Fun Fact Friday

25 01 2013

He may go down as one of, if not the best tennis player to ever play the game, but the Federer Express may be unable to finish his routes anymore. Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 in the Australian Open semifinals as Federer seemed to be one step behind the entire time, even though the match lasted five sets. This is the first time Murray has defeated Federer in a Grand Slam match while this is the third straight time Federer has lost in the Aussie semis. He has lost to the other players a part of Men’s tennis “fantastic four” each time (2011 – Novak Djokovic, 2012 – Rafael Nadal, 2013 – Murray.)

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Down Goes Nadal

28 06 2012

This just doesn’t happen. Seriously.

In a match that can only be described as stupefying, 11-time Grand Slam winner and reigning French Open champion Rafael Nadal was taken down by No. 100 ranked Lukas Rosol 7-6 (9), 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the second round at Wimbledon.

Rosol came into this match with no credibility. The man from the Czech Republic had only won 18 career singles matches while Nadal had won 582. That’s all you need to know about where these two 26-year-old tennis players came from.

Even though this is obviously all about Nadal and an immense upset, Rosol looked deserving to receive his 19th career win. There are no striking “unforced errors” or “yet another Nadal injury” storylines to go along with Rosol’s biggest win of his career. He played his best game ever by having better serves, better footwork, better volleys and simply better tennis than the King of Clay.

No other set than the final 5th set made it clear who earned this win. Rosol played almost perfect tennis, including an absurd 99 miles an hour backhand winner and three staggering aces during the final game of the match.

His opponent even knew how well he played.

“In the fifth set, he played more than unbelievable,” Nadal said.

Yes, upsets happen in every type of sport out there. However, this simply has not happened to Men’s tennis’s Big 3 (Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic) during their era of dominance. In fact, this is the lowest-ranked player Nadal has ever fallen to in a Grand Slam and the earliest he has been ousted in the past seven years. Since tennis doesn’t spark much interest across the nation, this won’t get much discussion, but realize this: Nadal’s loss ranks right along with the biggest upsets of the year.

Not only will Nadal not get the chance to win his fourth back-to-back majors, but now the tournament has fallen into either Federer or Djokovic’s lap. Since Djokovic is seeded No. 1 and Federer No. 3, they will (inevitably) face off in the semifinals – not the Finals. The other side of the bracket, which had Nadal, now has the likes of Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Mardy Fish and David Ferrer to possibly take advantage of the Spaniard’s early departure. However, these men have a combined zero Grand Slam championships. Even though Juan Del Potro and (now) Rosol also have a chance to make a deep run to face one of the Big 3, it won’t matter.

As has been proven countless times, this is the Big 3’s court. Actually, any major’s court is the Big 3’s court. Other than one odd U.S. Open championship victory in 2009 for Del Potro, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won every single Grand Slam since 2007. Every single one. They play tennis at a precise and efficient level unattainable by any other player in the world. Since Nadal decided to show his humanity this time around, he has cleared the path for Djokovic to continue his spectacular stretch of tennis that started right in London one year ago or for Federer to tack on yet another Grand Slam (his 17th to be exact) to his illustrious list of accomplishments.

Every superstar has a point in their career when they fail to reach expectations and disappoint all that put faith in their abilities. This is Nadal’s day. After one of the two players ranked right above and below him eventually win this tournament, we will all see a focused Rafa show up in America ready to win the U.S. Open.

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Sharapova Wins Finally and Nadal Wins Again

11 06 2012

As the French Open came to a close this past weekend, Nadal simply went through the motions as Sharapova experienced a new type of victory.

 

When Maria Sharapova had right shoulder surgery in 2008 after winning the Australian Open earlier in the year, the sport’s second most famous female player seemed to have an insurmountable obstacle to overcome in order to complete her career Grand Slam. The past few years since this surgery, the firepower behind her swing seemed to be nonexistent and the likelihood of seeing the “old” Sharapova seemed more and more unlikely with each successive tournament.

Saturday provided Sharapova with the opportunity to complete this mission, and it was easily accomplished.

With a much stronger shoulder and confident swing, Sharapova effectively implemented a familiar piercing serve to take a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Sara Errani to capture her first French Open title, completing her career Grand Slam. Only nine other women have ever been able to do this.

It became apparent as this game went along that the 5-foot-4 1/2 Errani could not stand up to the pressure of her first Grand Slam single compared to Sharapova’s seventh. The young Italian only produced 12 winners as she seemed uncomfortable playing against an opponent 10 inches taller than her. In the end, Sharapova had the superior strength and experience that gave her the seemingly undemanding championship victory.

Even though Sharapova has plenty of good years ahead of her at the young age of 25, this is the cherry on top of her career so far. It only took 17 years of her life before she was placed in the media spotlight after winning Wimbledon in 2004. She quickly thereafter won the U.S. Open (19) and the Australian Open (20). But then her shoulder surgery took her out of the game and out of relevancy as she dropped all the way to 126th.

The clay has become home for Sharapova as she been dominant every time she steps onto this tough-to-move-around-in red or blue clay. She holds a record of 16-0 on the year when playing on clay.

 

Men Women
2006 Australian Open Roger Federer (7) Amelie Mauresmo
French Open Rafael Nadal (2) Justin Henin (5)
Wimbledon Roger Federer (8) Amelie Mauresmo (2)
U.S. Open Roger Federer (9) Maria Sharapova (2)
2007 Australian Open Roger Federer (10) Serena Williams (8)
French Open Rafael Nadal (3) Justin Henin (6)
Wimbledon Roger Federer (11) Venus Williams (6)
U.S. Open Roger Federer (12) Justin Henin (7)
2008 Australian Open Novak Djokovic Maria Sharapova (3)
French Open Rafael Nadal (4) Ana Ivanovic
Wimbledon Rafael Nadal (5) Venus Williams (7)
U.S. Open Roger Federer (13) Serena Williams (9)
2009 Australian Open Rafael Nadal (6) Serena Williams (10)
French Open Roger Federer (14) Svetlana Kuznetsova (2)
Wimbledon Roger Federer (15) Serena Williams (11)
U.S. Open Juan Marin Del Potro Kim Clijsters (2)
2010 Australian Open Roger Federer (16) Serena Williams (12)
French Open Rafael Nadal (7) Francesca Schiavone
Wimbledon Rafael Nadal (8) Serena Williams (13)
U.S. Open Rafael Nadal (9) Kim Clijsters (3)
2011 Australian Open Novak Djokovic (2) Kim Clijsters (4)
French Open Rafael Nadal (10) Li Na
Wimbledon Novak Djokovic (3) Petra Kvitova
U.S. Open Novak Djokovic (4) Samantha Stosur
2012 Australian Open Novak Djokovic (5) Victoria Azarenka
French Open Rafael Nadal (11) Maria Sharapova (4)
4 Different Men 13 Different Women

 

Clearly, the women’s side of this sport has gone through a flux of winners with no established upper tier class of players. There was one time when Venus Williams, Serena Williams and Justin Henin had a grasp of their sport and could be found near the end of every Grand Slam tournament. However, one of these players has retired, another is playing like she is 51 instead of 31 and the other just got knocked out of the first round.

Sharapova has no control over her competition from year to year; however, because of the lack of reliable competition from tournament to tournament, this career Grand Slam has to be considered the most underwhelming one of all time. Not only did she take the most time (nine years) out of both the men’s and women’s side to win all four Grand Slams, she also came out on top of this last Grand Slam during a time when the previous four major tournaments resulted in four straight women winning their first Grand Slam. That’s inconsistency.

Winning only a single title from each tournament, it is as if Sharapova has found a way to scrape by in order to have this milestone on her resume. Furthermore, none of these tournaments were won in the same year or in the following year. Of the 17 men and women to take home four different Grand Slam trophies, only Sharapova and Shirley Fry Irvin failed to win more than those four times. Yes, Sharapova still has time. If she can find a way to play at a high level all year unlike every other professional women’s tennis player currently out there, all of this will be moot.

At this point in time, though, with the lack of competition along with her limited victories on the big stage, Sharapova winning Saturday and completing her career Grand Slam should receive a golf clap.

 

Thanks to some rain that fell at the most opportune time for a certain Spaniard, Rafael Nadal bit yet another Musketeers’ Trophy as he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5.

The No. 1 ranked player in the world had already strung together two straight matches earlier in the tournament when he came back from a 2-0 deficit. Djokovic clearly has the mental capability to put his struggles behind him and defeat his opponent under any circumstances. With the chance to complete his own career Grand Slam by winning four consecutive tournaments, he clearly wanted this.

Sunday’s match provided him with yet another 2-0 deficit as Nadal looked to be on a cakewalk toward his record-breaking seventh French Open title. Yet, the third set completely changed the feel of this game as Nadal’s play on the baseline stopped working to his advantage and Djokovic began outhitting Nadal on seemingly every play. Djokovic quickly took the third set and broke Nadal immediately to take a 2-0 4th set lead. If the Djoker had been able to capture this set and leave the championship in the hands of a 5th set, he would have the momentum and know-how to finish off his powerful opponent.

But the “tennis gods” began to cry since they did not know what to do with themselves in this situation. Since his professional career started in 2003, Nadal has never lost this clay court tournament other than the three times he had to drop out or failed to play at his normal level due to an injury. After these tears began to really come down, the match was postponed to the next day.

Just as Djokovic looked like a different player in the third set and at the start of the fourth set, Nadal came out Monday with a new focus that allowed him to jump right back into the set as he won the next two games. When Nadal has his feet sunk into the clay he played on growing up, his forehand seems indomitable with no chance of slowing down.

Djokovic seems to currently have a level of play that puts him above Nadal in terms of who is the better tennis player. However, he was not simply playing against the second best player in the world. He was playing against Rafa – the man that has now clearly established himself as the best clay court athlete to ever play the game as he passed Bjorn Borg for most men’s French Open titles. Nadal took that fourth set and was on his way to gnawing on more metal.

It isn’t a coincidence that seven of Nadal’s 11 Grand Slam titles come from the French Open. The Spaniard’s style of forceful play and placement five feet behind the baseline fit excellently in Paris. The clay courts slow down all movement of the tennis ball, allowing Nadal to sit back and play his physical game to perfection. No other player will ever have an advantage like Nadal when it comes to playing on one court over to another.

If 16-time Grand Slam champ Roger Federer was unable to take down Nadal during his own prime when he seemed to hit every angle correctly and win every match he played, Djokovic will clearly need the ball to bounce his way if he ever wants to take down the King of Clay that’s only one year older than him. Once Wimbledon begins in a few weeks, these two (and possibly Federer) will undoubtedly provide some theatrical and captivating tennis.

 

Even though Sharapova and Nadal are clearly at different points in their career and achieved their respective milestone against different levels of opponents, they both love to grunt, scream and yell when they hit the tennis ball. This past weekend, they both shouted just enough to become French Open champions.

 

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In Case You Missed It… (Second Edition)

23 04 2012

Earlier this year, America experienced consecutive jam-packed days in the world of sports. That world just threw a wild weekend party that would please any type of sports fan. Here is a rundown of what took place:

 

 

NHL

  • Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres was suspended 25 games by the NHL for launching himself into Chicago Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa during their playoff game. Hossa ended up in the hospital, and the punishment was so severe mainly because Torres is a “repeat offender.” The NHL should be this strict with all of their penalties in order to keep this these type of hits out of the game. Even with hockey’s physical play, this isn’t needed on the ice or in any other sport for the matter.
    • The Coyotes holds the 3-2 series lead going into game six on Monday. All five games in this series have gone to overtime as each team easily look like they could come out on top. They both are showing a lot of grit, a quality that is invaluable when it comes to playoff hockey. Whoever wins this series is bound to give their opponent trouble in the second round.
  • The Philadelphia Flyers finished off the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six with a 5-1 victory. Taking the series four games to one, the Flyers capped off a six game bloodbath filled with an abundance of goals. Through the first three games, this series simply seemed like a conduit for two groups of men to beat each other up. While this fighting took place, each group forced the issue on the other team’s goalie. As the Flyers took the 3-0 lead, the two state rivals combined to put in 32 goals. The Penguins won the next two games, looking like the squad that many envisioned winning it all this year. However, Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov put together a phenomenal game six performance as Marc André Fleury allowed four of the Flyers’s five goals. Unfortunately for the Pens, Fleury decided to have his worst playoff performance of his career against their biggest nemesis. The Penguins will have to decide if they want to keep the core of this team or blow it up just as the Flyers did a couple of years ago.
  • The reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins forced a seventh game against the Washington Capitols with Tyler Seguin’s overtime goal in game six. They will now host game seven in their own TD Garden. Taking three of their four series to seven games during last year’s championship run, this team has been exposed to the pressure of a seventh game. If Bruins goalie Tim Thomas plays like he did in game six (36 saves), Boston will move on to the second round.
  • The eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings advanced to the second round for the first time in 11 years as they took down the top seeded Vancouver Canucks in overtime, 2-1, in game five. The Canucks had some odd coaching in this game, only making one lineup change in the entire game. Even though an eighth seeded team has never won the Stanley Cup, with the way the goalie Jonathan Quick and his Kings easily handled the Canucks, this team could be dangerous moving forward.

 

NBA

  • Dwight Howard underwent back surgery to repair his herniated disk, forcing him to miss the playoffs and the London Olympics this summer. Howard’s pains started after the Magic claimed Brendan Haywood struck their big man in the back (with no video evidence) in a game March 30. Even though this injury could not be avoided, this caps of a drama-filled season for the Magic and their celebrity center. If it is possible to find a silver lining with Superman’s situation, Glen Davis has blossomed since Howard’s back pains started, averaging 18.1 points and 10.2 rebounds during April.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers took down the Oklahoma City Thunder, 114-106, in double overtime. This marque matchup provided Staples Center and ABC viewers with one of the best NBA games this season even though Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 23-82. The Thunder’s two all-stars could just not find a way to close out this game as Kobe came up big when the spotlight shined brightest. If these two teams meet in the second round of the playoffs, the Lakers have a good chance of taking down the team predicted to win the West since the start of the season.
    • Metta World Peace bringing out his inner Ron Artest for the nation to see as James Harden received a concussion was the low point of the afternoon. Unless there is a new celebration move where a player swings his elbow at the level of his head, this has to be considered as a dirty move by World Peace (sounds weird, right?). What a sad sight for a guy that has stayed away from these types of plays since his name change. “That’s not a basketball play, man,” Kevin Durant said during a halftime interview. World Peace will likely be suspended for multiple games, which will carry over into the playoffs.
  • Thanks to Marvin Williams mistiming his final move, the New York Knicks defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 113-112, as they now hold the seventh seed. Carmelo Anthony continued to play the best basketball in the league, putting up 39 points and 10 rebounds. He is averaging an astounding 30.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists for the month of April. It’s too bad his high level of play won’t matter since he will face the Heat or Bulls in the first round.
  • After being pounded by the Sacramento Kings (yes, that is possible), 114-88, the Charlotte Bobcats are three games away from finishing up one of the worst seasons in NBA history. In fact, if they lose their final three games, that will give them a winning percentage of .106 – the lowest in NBA history. You have to feel for Paul Silas who just doesn’t have any pieces to work with. Hopefully the insertion of Anthony Davis can help this team be somewhat respectable when he joins these ‘Cats.
  • Reggie Evan proved to the nation why players should be fined for excessive flopping during the Los Angeles Clippers 107-98 victory over the New Orleans Hornets. This type of play needs to stop as more and more players (including many Clippers…) are finding ways to make a tick-tack foul look like a Ron Artest elbow to the face. The only way to fix this problem is to start taking money out of these players’ pockets.

 

MLB

  • Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox threw the 21st perfect game in MLB history against the Seattle Mariners on Saturday. Humber is now the fourth pitcher in the past four years to throw a perfect game. This was also the first time Humber made it all the way through nine innings in his six year career. His 32 sliders really helped keep the Mariners’ bats off target. Even though this is a great achievement for the young man, this doesn’t represent his level of pitching. It was a great surprise, but it can’t be forgotten that he pulled this feat off against the Mariners.
  • Albert Pujols has had 61 at-bats this season without hitting a home run. Previously, his longest homer-less streak to start a season was 27. (Don’t worry, it’s not like the Angels have agreed to pay him $240 million or anything. Oh, wait.) Sitting last in the American West with a 6-10 record, Pujols’s Angels will need much bigger things from him if they want to make any noise come playoff time.
  • Ever since the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox started off each of their respective seasons with three straight losses, they have headed in different directions. The Yankees (9-6) topped off their recent hot streak Saturday when they strung together back-to-back seven run innings against the abysmal Red Sox (4-10) in their 15-9 victory.
    • General Manager Bobby Valentine has received heat because of his actions and statements during his team’s struggles. In a town used to winning baseball during the past decade, Valentine’s seat should already be considered hot.
  • Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers has been phenomenal with 22 RBIs in the first two weeks of the season. He has been a huge factor towards the Dodgers’ 12-4 start to the season. On the other end of the spectrum, the entire Pittsburgh Pirates team has only managed 29 RBIs since the season began. Luckily for the Pirates, their pitching (2.53 ERA) has kept them at a somewhat respectable 6-9.
  • The Texas Rangers took down the Detroit Tigers, 3-2, Sunday in eleven innings and took the series three games to one. The game didn’t end in on a happy note, though. As Alberto Gonzalez provided the winning run after reaching first base on a squeeze bunt, the replay showed the bunt hit his knee. The umpires let the play go, and the Rangers went on to steal the win.
    • Even with the controversial call, this team has been playing baseball at an entirely different level than the rest of the league. They have the most runs (91), best batting average (.301), second best on-base percentage (.362), best slugging percentage (.508) and best run differential (+52) in the entire league. Along with a lineup that seems to have no weak spots, the five starting pitchers have been playing their part, collecting 10 wins and a single loss. These guys are buying into what Ron Washington is selling and their 13-3 record proves their commitment. If they can play anywhere close to this level of baseball once the playoffs roll around, they will be dangerous for a third straight year.
  • The Philadelphia Phillies just placed Cliff Lee on the 15-day disabled list. This formerly hot-shot team stands at 7-9 with only the Pirates producing fewer runs on the year. Even though this team has great pitching – just as they did last year – they will need to find a way to pick up their hitting, especially with Ryan Howard out until mid-May.

 

NCAABB

  • Larry Brown has been hired as the head basketball coach at SMU as the Mustangs prepare for their transition to the Big East. Brown has a tendency to succeed wherever he goes, except for his last two stops (New York Knicks and Charlotte Bobcats). The last time he coached at the collegiate level was with the Kansas Jayhawks from 1983-1988. He won it all during his last year before moving on to the San Antonio Spurs. It seems like a 71-year-old man should stay retired after 38 years on the job. Right? Wrong. Coaching is in Brown’s blood and it always will be. He will jump back in the game and be the face that this SMU program needs.

 

NFL

  • Most reports indicate that the Indianapolis Colts will use their top draft pick on Andrew Luck. This will inaugurate a new era in Indianapolis as this confident football player seemingly has everything a football team wants and needs in a quarterback. However, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t completely live up to expectations since his expectations have escalated to an almost unattainable level.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free-agent wide receiver Mike Wallace is pulling a DeSean Jackson as he prepares to sit out drills and possibly training camp in order to get the money he (thinks he) deserves. He wants the Steelers to give him a long-term deal after he caught 72 passes for 1,193 yards last season.
    • When a player on a professional sports team whines about not getting enough money, in some form or fashion, in one of the most lucrative businesses in the nation, he looks like a selfish man that is caught up in his own sports world. Yes, players deserve to “earn their worth,” but that should only go so far when players are getting paid millions and millions of dollars to play a sport.

 

Tennis

  • Rafael Nadal took down Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-1 to win the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters for the eighth consecutive year. Djokovic clearly wasn’t at his best for this match, lacking the energy and heart he has displayed during the past few years. This commanding victory is a huge statement for Nadal, who had lost his previous seven meetings to the top-ranked player in the world. He entered this tournament coming off of an aggravated knee injury that has constantly hurt him in the past, but he surprised Monte Carlo all the way to the championship. Don’t be surprised if Nadal does extremely well once his favorite Grand Slam tournament rolls around in May.

 

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