Best of Three: Nadal pounds Djokovic at Monte Carlo Masters
Rafael Nadal's Monte Carlo win over Novak Djokovic was a monumental title
Nadal won a record 8th straight time, breaking a 7-match losing streak to Djokovic
Ivan Ljubicic will be missed -- but post-playing opportunities in tennis are aplenty
1. King of Clay defends throne: Many expected Rafael Nadal to perform the necessary troubleshooting and, eventually, solve the Riddle of Novak Djokovic. Few expected that it would come so easily. After seven unsuccessful matches against his new nemesis, Nadal simply blitzed Djokovic 6-3, 6-1 in Sunday's Monte Carlo final, winning the event for a preposterous eighth straight year. Let's get this out of the way: the Djokovic loyalists have already noted -- not altogether unreasonably -- that we should assign minimal significance to the match, since their man was grieving from the loss of his grandfather, Vladimir. Djokovic's head and heart were clearly elsewhere.
"It's been a tough week, not just for me but for everybody in my family," Djokovic told reporters after the match. "We're going through this together. In the end, I played the final and I'm really happy for that."
Still, it was a vitally important match for Nadal and he won it playing classic ground-and-pound tennis. He took control of points, mixed up the pace, used his expertise on clay to extend rallies with retrieving, and, above all, he served sensationally. (Nadal made 26 first serves, winning 22 of those points.) Nadal loses this match and it could have been devastating. It would have marked the eighth straight defeat to Djokovic; on clay; at an event Nadal had previously dominated; with Djokovic distracted by a death in a family. But beating Djokovic for the first time since 2010 and starting off his clay season -- his annual points pilgrimage -- with a victory, Nadal was thrilled.
"It was very important to break the bad (losing streak). So was important to win the tournament another time," Nadal said. "Break that situation, winning a Masters 1000, one of my favorites, everything's perfect today."
2. Farewell, Ivan: A clap of the racket to Ivan Ljubicic, who called it a career last week. It's probably fitting that the Croatian veteran lost to a younger countryman, Ivan Dodig, in the first round in Monte Carlo. In addition to cracking the top three, reaching a Grand semifinal and winning 10 titles, his career highlight was helping Croatia win the 2005 Davis Cup and taking a bronze medal (in doubles) for his country at the Athens Olympics. Thoughtful and intelligent, Ljubicic was active in ATP politics, as comfortable talking about the business of tennis as he was Xs and Os of matches. It will be interesting to see what he does next. At 33, he was past his prime as a player; but the ATP is immeasurably depleted in his absence.
3. Fed Cup roundup: Interesting twist to Fed Cup this year. Players must compete -- or at least avail themselves -- to the competition in order be eligible for the Olympics. And yet the looming Olympics makes the Fed Cup appear even less relevant as a team competition. (Suffice it to say, most players would take Olympic bronze over a Fed Cup title.)
Still, they played matches last weekend and Serbia and the defending champion Czechs advanced to meet for the final. Jelena Jankovic has been having a dismal year (or three) but clinched the tie for Serbia against Russia by besting Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-4. Petra Kvitova won both her singles rubbers to lead the Czechs over Italy. The U.S. team was relegated to the World Group playoffs but had no problem with the Ukrainians, sweeping the tie 5-0. Serena Williams led the way. See here for all the results.
• Bonus doubles: The Bryan brothers won the Monte Carlo doubles title on Sunday, defeating the No. 2 team of Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor 6-2, 6-3. Their run also included a 6-2, 6-0 of Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, the team that beat them in the Australian Open final.