In Monte Carlo 2016, Rafael Nadal claimed his first notable title since Roland Garros 2014, overpowering Gael Monfils for the ninth crown in the Principality. The Spaniard matched Novak Djokovic's 28 Masters 1000 titles following a grueling 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 victory in two hours and 46 minutes, lifting the 68th ATP trophy in a career and extending his streak to at least one in the last 13 years.
Rafa was forced to dig deep in the opening two sets to claim the 48th ATP crown on clay, with Monfils giving his 120% both physically and mentally in the first two sets, staying in touch with the greatest clay-courter for two hours before slowly fading from the court.
The crowd on the Central court had the opportunity to see pretty much everything that one match on clay could offer, with unbelievable physical and mental struggle from the very first point, towards extended baseline rallies, sharp and precise winners, mindblowing defense and transition to attacking mode.
In short, it was one of the best matches of 2016 and a memorable final that will be remembered for years! For Gael, it was the tournament of a career up to that point even though he claimed five other titles, playing great tennis in the opening five encounters en route to the final and also against Rafa for two sets.
There were 13 breaks of serve in total (five in the first and second sets each) and Nadal had the numbers of his side for a deserved victory, needing his best tennis to prevail in the end. Monfils knew how to challenge Nadal on that day, staying in rallies long enough to create the opportunity for the attack and changing the pace of his shots to keep Rafa outside the comfort zone.
He created break point in game three but Nadal saved it with a well-constructed attack, bringing the game home and stealing the rival's serve in the very next one for an early advantage. Still, the Spaniard couldn't cement it, getting broken in game five to keep the opponent on the positive side of the scoreboard.
Gael repelled two break opportunities in the next game before Nadal broke him at 4-3, building the advantage but still not finishing the job. Monfils fought back to prolong the already long first set, converting the third break chance in that ninth game and erasing three set points on his serve in the next one to level the score at 5-5.
Staying focused, Nadal grabbed another break at 6-5 to finally seal the set after 73 minutes, moving closer to the title and hoping for a more straightforward job in set number two. Rafa started strong in the second set too and it looked that Monfils will not be able to follow that pace anymore.
Nonetheless, an inspired Frenchman proved all wrong, as he continued to push Nadal to the limits and fight for every point. Gael was the first to break, stealing Rafa's serve in game three and opening a 3-1 gap after saving three break chances in the fourth game, which gave him a massive boost of confidence.
Being in danger to fall two breaks down, Rafa repelled a critical break opportunity in game five to remain within one break deficit, the one he got back in game six to level the score at 3-3. Players exchanged another pair of breaks in games seven and eight, setting up a tight conclusion of the set and keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats.
This time around, it was Monfils who kept the composure better, breaking Nadal in game 11 and closing another marathon set on his serve, sending the clash into a decider that could have lasted for three and a half hours!
After seeing pretty much everything that tennis can produce in the first two sets, Gael had nothing left in the tank to stay competitive in the decider, with Rafa taking full advantage of that fact. The Spaniard lost only four points on serve and broke Monfils three times for a commanding 6-0, ending the match in a completely different way than it ran in the first two sets.
The Frenchman won only five points behind the initial shot, unable to hold in any of three attempts and allowing Nadal to finish the encounter with a fantastic forehand down the line winner, ending his almost two-year drought without a big title.