Rafael Nadal claimed the ninth Roland Garros crown in 2014. The Spaniard struggled with injuries, failing to challenge top rivals for the next two years, despite staying in the top-10. Nadal had to wait nearly two years to lift another notable title, winning the trophy at Monte Carlo 2016 over Gael Monfils.
It was Rafa's ninth crown in the Principality, and equaled Novak Djokovic's 28 Masters 1000 trophies. Nadal needed two hours and 46 minutes to fire Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0, leaving the second set behind and assaulting the rival in the decider.
Thus, the Spaniard won the 68th ATP title and secured at least one for the 13th consecutive season. Gael gave it his all to challenge the king of clay in the first two sets. Still, he vanished on the court in the decider and missed out on the chance to win the first Masters 1000 trophy.
The crowd on the Rainier III court got a chance to see all that a clay court match has to offer. There were long baseline rallies, sharp and precise winners, mind-blowing defense and a transition into attacking mode on both sides.
All in all, it was one of the best matches of 2016 and a memorable final to watch. For Gael, it was the tournament of his career so far, despite having won another five titles. The Frenchman played great tennis in the first five meetings en route to the final and challenged Rafa for straight sets.
There were 13 service breaks and five in the first and second sets each. Monfils knew how to challenge Nadal, staying in the rallies long enough to create the attacking opportunity and changing the pace of his strikes to keep Rafa out of his comfort zone.
Rafa Nadal won 21 Grand Slams
World No. 7 Casper Ruud recently delved deeper into the reasons behind Rafael Nadal's mind-boggling dominance on clay. "He plays every point very, very strictly and with order, like it’s his last point.
I have heard him say that many times before and that’s the reason he never gives you room to breathe," Casper Ruud said. "You don’t get too many free points from him in a match or when you play points [in practice].
With the clay, sometimes it’s more physically demanding because you play longer rallies and longer matches, and he’s there ready for it. He sets up the point very well and many times the same way. He likes to dominate points with his forehand and I think the majority of his clay-court career, he has been very successful playing his forehand heavy crosscourt to his opponent’s backhand, usually when he plays right-handed players," Ruud explained.
"Most players struggle with his shots and it’s very normal because they’re very heavy. I think this is what makes him so successful."