With many believing he was history, Rafael Nadal has gotten back to making history.
On Sunday, Nadal overcame a newly dedicated Gael Monfils to win his ninth Monte-Carlo Masters title, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0. After a thrilling first set that featured spellbinding rallies, the second set was more a mental battle, with Monfils hanging tough longer than many expected and Nadal fighting not only his opponent, but fatigue from a gauntlet of previous matches (Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray) and nerves trying to close out his biggest title in nearly two years.
Monfils managed to steal the second, leading to questions of whether Nadal was finally “back,” as has been the debate for the last few months, or if his strong play would recede once again. The King of Clay responded emphatically, rededicating himself to attacking with his forehand, which looked weary while trying to hit through the Monfils defense in the second set.
Nadal eventually wore down Monfils (who is lightning fast, but not the most well-conditioned player on tour), leading to a one-sided finale, culminating in a fantastic shot to close out the championship:
What a way to close it on match point and get back in the winner's circle for Rafael Nadal. pic.twitter.com/ILuex0A0WR
— Andrew Jerell Jones (@sluggahjells) April 17, 2016
Nadal attained numerous records with the emotional win, which are in addition to making his 100th tour final and tying Roger Federer for most Masters finals (42):
— Moved back into a tie with Novak Djokovic for most Masters titles (28). Djokovic had tied him in Indian Wells and passed him in Miami.
— It’s his 66th outdoor title, now tied with Federer for most in the Open Era, and 48th on clay, one shy of tying the record held by Guillermo Vilas.
— Extended his streak of years with an ATP title to 13, one of four to do so in the Open Era (Federer has 15 with the chance to extend to 16 this year, Lendl 14, Connors 13).
— The nine titles at one event would have been a new record except Nadal had already become the first to pull off said feat at the 2014 French Open.
Nadal strengthened his hold on the No. 5 ranking and made progress on trying to catch Stan Wawrinka for No. 4 before the French Open draw. To track down Wawrinka and get his own quarter of the draw in Paris, Nadal will likely need to win two more events before then between Barcelona, Madrid and Rome.