Rafa Nadal started to win the Monte-Carlo Masters tournament in 2005 — and no other man won one until 2013. It’s a dominance that’s often overlooked, since the undisputed King of Clay was also winning nine out of ten French Opens at the time — and Grand Slams hog the media attention. But tennis fans know that Nadal’s dominance in Monaco was virtually coterminous with his owning Roland Garros — and that if he returns to championship form at Monte-Carlo it probably means Nadal is back for real.
It’s been three years since Nadal has worn the crown in the principality — a long three years for the great Spaniard whose physical power was always a marvel, and whose injuries have weighed heavily on his mind and future. Nadal looked powerful and determined on his way to the quarters on Thursday, defeating the Austrian Dominic Thiem 7-5, 6-3 after saving 15 break points. The questions with Nadal remain: is his toughness at the difficult moments a sign of his reemergence? Or is his being in those difficult moments in the first place a sign of his reduced tennis circumstances?