He finished last year as the world number one and it’s going to take something special from someone special to stop Rafael Nadal doing the same in 2014.
It may only be the first week of the year but Nadal, who clocked up a total of ten titles last year, has already claimed his maiden title of the new season winning the Qatar Exxon Mobil Open in Doha.
His route through the draw wasn’t totally straightforward. Along the way, the tenacious Spaniard dropped sets to Tobias Kamke and Peter Gojowczyk before seeing off Gael Monfils 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 in an entertaining final on Saturday.
With the first Grand Slam of the year in Australia just eight days away, Nadal appears a strong favourite after missing the tournament in Melbourne due to a lengthy injury last year.
Out of the world’s top seven players, Nadal was the only one to claim a title in the first week of the year. Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer all suffered early exits in Doha while Roger Federer was beaten by Lleyton Hewitt in the Brisbane final.
Reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic elected not to play before this year’s event.
Nadal’s victory over Monfils will be even more satisfying as it was the first time he lifted the trophy in Doha after six appearances. On two occasions, he was beaten by the Frenchman however he made sure that didn’t become three.
Monfils, currently ranked 26th in the world, hadn’t dropped a set on his way to the final; however it was the Spaniard who made light work of the first set.
The Frenchman may have made a slow start but it was to Nadal’s credit that the opening set was barely a contest, as he showed the sort of form which at times seems impossible to match.
23 minutes was all it took for the ruthless Spaniard to race into a set lead as he imposed his game from the off, moving Monfils from pillar to post with his devastating forehand.
However, no two sets are ever the same - especially when playing Monfils. Recognised as one of the most unpredictable but entertaining players on the tour, the Frenchman reverted to all-out attack.
His booming serve and scorching groundstrokes suddenly began to pay off. The crowd had a match on their hands as the fired up Monfils stormed into a 3-0 then 4-1 set lead.
Nadal appeared to have regained control of the situation by batting back to 4-4. However, Monfils refused to lie down and the best tennis of the match followed. It was only fitting it went to a tie break when the Frenchman pounced to draw level.
But getting Nadal down is one thing - keeping him there is another. Monfils gave his all but, like many others, just couldn’t stick with the Spaniard whose performance sent the echoing statement that he’s ready for Australia.
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