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By Chris Oddo

Photo Credit: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal slides into a backhand in Monte Carlo

(April 21, 2012) Rafael Nadal survived an inspired effort from Frenchman Gilles Simon today to keep alive his hopes of winning an eighth straight Monte-Carlo title.

The 6-3, 6-4 triumph sets up another highly anticipated clash between the world's top two players in tomorrow's final. And even though Nadal has famously lost seven straight finals to Novak Djokovic, on Sunday he'll get to face him on a court that he has owned for seven years.

Nadal holds a career record of 43-1 in Monte-Carlo with his last loss coming in 2003. He also owns a victory over Djokovic, which came in the 2009 final.

If Nadal needed a tough match to declare himself ready for the world-beating Serb, he got more than he bargained for today. Simon, fresh off his first top ten win of the season in yesterday's quarterfinal versus Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, threw everything he had at Nadal.

In the end, it was not enough. Nadal saved all seven break points he faced, and finally closed the defiant Frenchman out in one hour and fifty minutes.

The match was entertaining throughout, with the pair exchanging in frequent long baseline rallies that pushed each player from corner to corner. With a packed house decidedly appreciative of Simon's efforts, the match had a classic feel.

It was Simon who threatened to draw first blood in the seventh game of the first set.

But Nadal was equal to the task, erasing two break points with stellar shotmaking under pressure. By the end of the game, all the fatigued Frenchman could do was dump a dropshot into the net after yet another long rally to give Nadal the hold. Nadal then seized the momentum gained to break Simon in the very next game for a 5-3 lead.

After serving out the first set, Nadal took the early lead in the second when he whacked a trademark forehand that whizzed past Simon down the line for a break in the third game. But Simon, to his credit, would not relent.

Down a break at 2-1, Simon earned another break point to draw even. But Nadal upped his game once again, forcing Simon into a long rally that ended with a wild forehand that sailed at least five feet beyond the baseline.

Unfazed, Simon proceeded to earn two more break points in the game. Nadal saved the first with a service winner out wide, and the second with an exquisite drop shot that feathered gently over the net and died in the clay before an onrushing Simon could get a racquet on the ball.

For Nadal, it was a recurring theme. There would be two more break point opportunities later in the third set for Simon, but the seemingly impervious-to-pressure Nadal brushed those aside as well.

He then served out the match to earn his 37th straight victory in semifinals played on clay. Nadal's 41st consecutive win at Monte-Carlo was an impressive display of shotmaking, and perhaps more importantly, fortitude.

Saving seven break points in a very tense match with an extremely dangerous foe might have been exactly what he needed to prepare for the challenge that awaits. He'll need every ounce of fortitude he can extract if he plans to keep his streak alive against Novak Djokovic tomorrow.


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