Rafael Nadal skipped two months after the Australian Open due to a back injury, withdrawing from Rotterdam and Miami and working on clay ahead of his beloved Monte Carlo Masters. Seeking the 12th title in the Principality, Rafa couldn't go all the way last week, suffering a loss in three sets to Andrey Rublev in the quarter-final and failing to win the crown for the second straight time.
Despite that, Nadal played three matches and increased his Monte Carlo tally to 79 encounters, becoming the second player since 1990 to achieve that at the Masters 1000 level! Roger Federer was the record-holder with 79 matches played in Indian Wells, with Nadal matching his feat after three Monte Carlo clashes, failing to beat the Russian and stand alone on the list.
Rublev overpowered his idol 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in two hours and 32 minutes, stunning the 20-time Major champion and remaining on the title course. Playing for the 12th Monte Carlo title, Rafa made a strong start against Federico Delbonis, losing only three games and standing as the favorite against Grigor Dimitrov.
Struggling with a tooth infection, Dimitrov took only two games against the Spaniard, who sealed the deal in 55 minutes to advance into the quarters.
Rafael Nadal became the second player with 79 matches at a single Masters 1000 event.
Rublev, one of the season's best players, proved to be too strong for the king of clay, beating him in three sets and advancing into the second straight Masters 1000 semi-final after Miami.
Rublev got broken four times and stole Nadal's serve on seven occasions, dominating the scoreboard in sets one and three to enter the last four. The youngster had 23 winners and 28 unforced errors, taming his strokes nicely, especially when it mattered the most, and taking advantage of Nadal's over 30 unforced mistakes.
Rublev had the edge in the shortest and most extended exchanges, starting all over after wasting the second set's lead and sending the 11-time champion packing. Like in 2019 against Fabio Fognini, Nadal was miles from his best, struggling behind the initial shot big time and hitting many double faults, like never before in the Principality.
Also, his backhand stayed in the locker room, and there was nothing in his arsenal to challenge an inspired opponent in the final set, despite coming back from 4-2 down in set number two.