In 2018, world no. 1 and the defending Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal proved his dominance on clay and this tournament again. Rafa defeated Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in an hour and 30 minutes for the 11th title in the Principality in the last 14 years!
No player had ever ruled one event in modern tennis like Nadal in Monte Carlo, winning 68 out of 72 matches since 2003 when he debuted at 16! It was the 76th ATP title for the Spaniard, and he moved one behind John McEnroe.
Also, Nadal earned the Masters 1000 record with the 31st title, leaving Novak Djokovic on 30. Also, Rafa stayed in front of Roger Federer on the ATP ranking list with these 1000 points, eager to repeat that in Barcelona and keep the Swiss behind.
Nadal was the player to beat in Monte Carlo, winning the title without dropping a set for the first time since 2012 and conquering 36 consecutive sets on clay! It was the tenth victory for the Spaniard over Nishikori in 12 meetings (four encounters on clay), playing against each other for the first time since the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Monte Carlo 2018 was the best tournament for Kei since 2016, scoring two top-10 triumphs (the previous one before Monte Carlo came in Brisbane 2017) and entering the Masters 1000 final for the first time since Canada that year.
However, it was not enough to go all the way and overpower such a strong rival and claim the title. Nishikori played from the first round and spent five more hours on the court in comparison to Rafa, which was evident during the final.
It was not a perfect display from Nadal, but he did enough to keep the upper hand and control the pace in the points. He faced two break chances and mounted the pressure on the other side.
In 2018, Rafael Nadal bested Kei Nishikori to secure the 11th Monte Carlo crown.
Kei grabbed a break in the encounter's third game to seize an early lead.
That was pretty much all we saw from him on the return, as he wasted a break chance in game seven and faded from the court in set number two. The Japanese served at only 52%, and he needed more to keep himself in contention.
He dropped 48% of the points behind the initial shot and gave serve away four times from eight opportunities Nadal created. Rafa had 20 winners and 21 unforced errors, while Kei stood on a 12-19 ratio, spraying mistakes from both wings and finding it hard to deal with the Spaniard's down the line shots.
The Japanese prevailed in the most extended exchanges, and Nadal erased that deficit in the shortest and mid-range rallies to create the crucial gap and secure the title. Rafa missed a chance to score an early break in game two when his forehand down the line finished just outside the range.
Kei landed a backhand winner at the net at 1-1 to draw first blood. Nonetheless, Nishikori could not stay in front for too long, hitting a double fault in game four to lose the advantage. The Japanese felt 3-2 down when Rafa held at love with a smash winner to restore the order and gain momentum.
The decisive moment came in the next game when Nadal delivered the second straight break, moving 4-2 ahead and saving a break chance a few minutes later to cement the advantage. Kei held at love to reduce the deficit to 5-3 before Nadal closed the set on his serve, firing a forehand winner to get the job done in 56 minutes.
Carried by this drive, Rafa was the dominant figure in set number two, serving at 80% and dropping four points in his games to keep the pressure on his opponent. The Japanese saved a break chance in the first game. Nadal broke at 15 two games later with a backhand return winner and jumped into a 3-1 lead with a forehand winner.
Kei lost serve again in game five, and the title was in Nadal's hands when he blasted a backhand crosscourt winner at 5-2 to celebrate another massive success on the court that had given him so much in the last 13 years.