MONTE CARLO, April 27 (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal became the first man in more than 90 years to win four consecutive Monte Carlo titles when he beat world number one Roger Federer in Sunday’s final.
His 7-5 7-5 victory marked the third year in a row Nadal had beaten Federer in the climax of the Masters claycourt event and underlined his status as hot favourite to win next month’s French Open for the fourth year in succession.
Before Nadal, only New Zealand’s Anthony Wilding had won four consecutive titles in Monte Carlo, back in 1914.
Nadal became the first player since American Jim Courier in 1991 in Indian Wells to win the singles and doubles titles at a Masters Series event when, with compatriot Tommy Robredo, he beat Mark Knowles and Mahesh Bhupathi 6-3 6-3 in the doubles final.
The 21-year-old Nadal improved his personal record against Federer to 9-6 (7-1 on clay) and is undefeated on the Monte Carlo clay since a third-round loss to Argentine Guillermo Coria in 2003.
“I just tried to put pressure on his backhand when I had the chance, tried to be aggressive and tried to have a good long return,” said Nadal after clinching his first title of the year.
“I am very happy, for sure. It is a very special moment for me. I played all the tournaments this year very well but I didn’t play the last match of every tournament well because I lost easily in Australia, Indian Wells and Miami.”
Federer, who lost his Australian Open crown in January and had to wait until last Sunday to claim his first title of the year in Estoril, said: “He’s a tough player on clay. Maybe my attacking game did not work so well.
“I’m still close (to beating him). It’s not getting much easier but I am right there and it’s a good thing.”
Federer, who was on the brink of defeat against Spanish qualifier Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo in the first round, said he felt relieved to be back.
“I am coming back strong and am happy the way things are now,” said the Swiss, who had mononucleosis earlier this year.
“A few weeks ago I was still in a bit of doubt.”
Following an early exchange of breaks, Federer stole Nadal’s serve in the seventh game, only for the Spaniard to break straight back with a crosscourt forehand winner.
The Majorcan put all his energy into the 12th game and claimed the set by retrieving a nonchalant volley from Federer.
The Swiss 12-times grand slam winner, whose second serve was inconsistent, did not look strong enough to trouble Nadal.
But he came into the second set all guns blazing, attacking the net and managing to hold serve after breaking in the first game.
The Swiss made his point clearer by breaking to love in the third and by the end of the fourth game had allowed his opponent only four points.
“I was just thinking to try and lose the set 6-2, not 6-0 and go for a third set with good feelings,” said Nadal.
However, Nadal did not give up and as Federer’s level of play nosedived he won the next five games. The Swiss still had some pride left to level at 5-5.
Nadal, wrapped it up after one hour and 43 minutes when Federer sent a backhand long, his 44th unforced error. (Editing by Rex Gowar and John Mehaffey)
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