Rafael Nadal of Spain (second right), winner of the Qatar Open, with Foreign Minister H E Dr Khalid bin Mohammed Al Attiyah (second left), Qatar Tennis Federation President, Nasser Al Khelaifi, and Gael Monfils of France, the runner-up, at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex in Doha yesterday. (SALIM MATRAMKOT)
BY RIZWAN REHMAT
DOHA: World number one Rafael Nadal yesterday braved a serve onslaught from Gael Monfils of France to win his maiden Qatar Open title after a three-set final that saw the Spaniard retain his top ranking going into this month’s Australian Open.
Nadal won 6-2, 6-6, 6-2 in 1 hour 59 minutes to bag his 61st career title, one more than American tennis legend Andre Agassi who ended his career with 60 winner’s trophies. The 27-year-old Spaniard is second-best behind Swiss star Roger Federer (77 titles) among active players.
Yesterday’s effort helped Nadal - the top seed in Doha - bag a title win in 17th different country and his first at the start of a new ATP Tour season.
Nadal, who won 10 titles in 14 finals in 2013, picked up the top prize of $188,600 and will start the season’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne as the world number one unlike last year when he sat out the first six weeks of the 2013 season with a ‘stomach virus.
Monfils, who was aiming for fifth career title in yesterday’s final, got richer by $99,325 and accumulated 150 points. It was Monfils’ third final in Doha where he has lost to Federer (2006) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (2012) in the last seven years.
The 27-year-old Frenchman - who fired 13 aces in the final - now trails Nadal 2-9 in overall head-to-head between the two players. Both of Monfils’ wins over Nadal came in Doha (2009 and 2012).
Monfils finished the Doha event with 46 aces while Nadal wound up his Qatar trip with 18 aces.
After lifting the trophy for the first time at Khalifa Tennis Complex, Nadal said winning the title in Doha was a personal triumph of sorts.
“I always wanted to win in Doha. It is a special event for me,” Nadal said.
“I played a final here in 2010 and lost to (Nikolay) Davydenko despite having three match points. It (the loss) was always in my mind,” Nadal added.
“I managed to win this year against a very tough opponent like Gael. I want to congratulate him on a great start to the season. If he keeps playing like this, I am sure he has good chance to in the top-10 at the end of the season,” Nadal said.
“A title is a title and I am very happy to win this,” Nadal said when asked about his feelings.
“It is the first week of the season and I had never won a trophy in the first week. So it is a great feeling for me,” the Spaniard said.
Buoyed by four resounding wins in as many days, Nadal took Monfils off-guard at the start of the final. Monfils struggled in game two when he misfired with a couple of unforced errors to see Nadal jump to a 2-0 lead.
In game four, Nadal broke the Frenchman for the second time and then held his serve to enjoy a 5-0 cushion in the first set which he later won 6-1 in only 23 minutes.
In the second game of the second set, Monfils broke Nadal who lost zip in his returns and hit a couple of returns wide besides being guilty of two unforced errors. However, Nadal hit back with his own service break in game eight but the finalists failed to gain advantage as the set headed into a tie-breaker.
With momentum on his side, Monfils lapped up a couple of long returns by Nadal to sit pretty at 5-3 in the tie-breaker. A crushing forehand from the baseline by the Frenchman followed by a long return from Nadal allowed Monfils to take the tie-breaker at 7-5.
In the decider, the finalists entertained the crowd with a couple of long rallies that lasted 28 and 24 shots in games two and three respectively, but Nadal broke Monfils in game four and then followed up with a decisive break in game eight to seal his win in a minute less than 2 hours.
Nadal fired only two aces in the match but depth and power on his returns saw Monfils commit 43 unforced errors compared to just 21 by the Spaniard in the three-set slug-fest.
Monfils said he was put under pressure by Nadal’s attack at the start of the final.
“Well, he plays tough. I think I started very slow in the match,”
Monfils said. “I think Rafa put pressure on me from the first point. It was very aggressive and then it was tougher for me to adjust,” Monfils said.
“I saw a strong Rafa on the baseline, hitting the balls very deep,”
Monfils said. “And it is not that I was surprised but it was tough. You know, he was really tough,” Monfils added.
Both players head to Australia to prepare for the season’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.