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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sequels seldom match original cinematic special effects—unless Rafael Nadal is driving the plot line.

Empowered by dynamic court coverage and dancing topspin drives, Nadal dismantled Kei Nishikori, 6-3, 6-2, powering to his record-extending 11th Monte-Carlo crown and 31st career Masters 1000 championship.

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The King of Clay arrived in the Principality with one simple aim: Complete a tournament.

Ultimately, Nadal completely obliterated the competition.

The top seed permitted just 21 games in five match victories raising his Monte-Carlo record to a staggering 68-4.

Since bowing to Dominic Thiem in Rome last year, Nadal has reeled off a personal-best 36 consecutive sets on clay and barely looked stressed charging through an impressive title defense. 



As a video of his greatest Monte-Carlo moments played on the stadium's big screen, Nadal soaked it in after another absorbing title trip at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.

It is the fifth time Nadal has won Monte-Carlo without surrendering a set as he raised his career clay-court record to an astounding 396-35 (.919).

The King of Clay accepted the title trophy from Prince Albert while reasserting his world rule.




Taking the title, Nadal retains the world No. 1 ranking denying second-ranked Roger Federer the shot to regain No. 1.

In their last meeting, Nishikori outdueled Nadal, 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3, on hard court in the bronze-medal match at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. But the world No. 36 knew he was up against an omnipotent force on Monte-Carlo's red clay.

"I'm sure there is a way to beat him. But, you know, to see him this week, it looks a little bit difficult," Nishikori conceded before the final.

Nishikori nearly doubled Nadal's time spent on court—10 hours, 19 minutes compared to 5 hours, 17 minutes—advancing to his first career Monte-Carlo final and the Spaniard proceeded to play physically-punishing points at the outset.



Immediately forced into a stress test, the Olympic bronze medalist fought off break point in his draining 10-minute opening service game. Thirteen minutes into the match Nishikori was bending over, hands on knees, gulping air in recovery.

Possessing one of the most potent and versatile backhands in the sport, Nishikori has jolted his two-hander down the line to hurt the top seed in the past.

Luring Nadal forward with the drop shot, Nishikori read the counter dropper reply, raced forward and slid a backhand pass for the first break and a 2-1 lead.




It was short-lived as the 36th-ranked Japanese double faulted donating the break right back in the fourth game.

Midway through the set, Nadal began transforming rallies into side-to-side sprints for his opponent draining Nishikori's legs and lungs.

Pouncing from a low crouch, Nadal banged a backhand into the corner for double break point. When Nishikori sailed a forehand, the world No. 1 had his second straight break for 4-2.

Dodging a break point in the seventh game, Nadal worked through a sloppy service game. The left-hander followed a forehand to net and threw an uppercut seizing his fifth consecutive game.

By then, Nishikori was operating from several steps behind the baseline trying to counter the Spaniard's twisting topspin.

Stepping up a bit closer to the line, Nishikori earned his first love hold for 3-5.

Saving set point with a sharp-angled backhand volley, Nishikori spiked a roar from the crowd as his coaches, Michael Chang and Dante Bottini, leaped from their seats.

Reasserting authority with his forehand, Nadal slashed successive forehands down the line stamping a one-set lead after 56 minutes with a double fist pump toward his box.

The good news for Nishikori was he had some success driving the ball down the line. The bad news is despite a couple of unruly patches of play, Nadal still dominated the set leaving the normally sure-footed Japanese stumbling around the dirt at times.

Thumping his forehand down the line with more vigor than he had in prior matches, Nadal scalded a 97 mph forehand return winner down the line for double break point then broke for 2-1.

Swinging more freely than he had in the first set, Nadal powered through five straight games in the second set.

A valiant Nishikori continued to battle, but couldn't gain much traction in extensive rallies as Nadal scored his second straight break extending to 4-1.




Crunching a backhand winner, Nadal thrust his arms in the air closing a convincing win in one hour, 33 minutes.

Red clay restoration day continued his championship streak: Nadal has won at least one ATP title for 15 years in a row.

It was Nadal's 10th victory over Nishikori in 12 meetings and could be a prelude to a round-of-16 clash in Barcelona next week if the seeds hold true to form. 


 

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