Rafael Nadal fought back from a set down to triumph over Andy Murray and reach the final of the Monte Carlos Masters. Staring at defeat and a disappointing start to his build up to the French Open, Nadal rallied to seal a 2-6 6-4 6-2 triumph in two hours and 44 minutes.
The victory means the Spaniard becomes just the sixth player in the Open Era to reach a 100th ATP tour-level final. A Frenchman will definitely await in that final on Sunday, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Gael Monfils battling it out for the right to meet Nadal. And there will be plenty on the line for the former world No. 1. Not only will he be competing for a ninth title in Monte Carlo, having gone unbeaten at the tournament between 2005 and 2012, but he will have the chance to draw level once again with Novak Djokovic for the most Masters 1000 titles, with 28.
If he does so it will be the world No. 5’s first triumph in one of the ATP Tour’s most prestigious nine tournaments since 2014. And it would be a significant boost toward his attempt to reclaim the French Open and win an unprecedented 10th title at Roland Garros.
After his worst year in more than a decade in 2015, Nadal had made a far-from-encouraging start to the current season. And, despite a comprehensive quarterfinal win over defending French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals on Friday, he was staring at further disappointment in the first tournament of the European clay-court season.
So used to controlling points on this surface, the man who will unquestionably go down as the greatest clay-court player in history allowed Murray to dictate the play in the opening set. The world No. 2, with only one previous clay-court win over Nadal to his name, broke in the sixth game to take control of the set. And, after fighting off two break points to hold in the very next game, Nadal then coughed up another break and the set with a forehand limply struck into the net.
The shot was indicative of Nadal's failure to assert himself in the early going against a player looking to make the final in Monte Carlo for the first time. While he began the second set as if he meant business, breaking Murray’s serve for the first time, the Scot immediately hit back. There was to be no such charity when Nadal broke for a second time, taking a 4-3 lead and making his advantage stick to level up the match.
As Murray’s ground game and his serve dropped off, Nadal seized his opportunity. Suddenly it was the man from Mallorca stepping forward and getting much better depth to his groundstrokes to keep his opponent on the back foot and on the move.
The momentum had turned decisively. The third set was almost all one-way traffic, other than a spirited rally by Murray when Nadal was serving for the match. Murray saved four match points and had two chances of his own to claw one of the two breaks of serve back. But Nadal held firm and took the match at the fifth time of asking to leave him eyeing the end of a title drought that dates back to July 2015.