The Masters records of Rafael Nadal are matched by very few others. Indeed only Novak Djokovic is currently on a par with the Spaniard at this elite ATP level, and with the record-holding Serb absent in Indian Wells this week, the door opened for Nadal to draw level once again at the top of the pile with 37 titles.
That is nine more than Roger Federer, who looked as though he was compiling an insurmountable tally in the years after his first Masters victory in Hamburg in 2002.
But by 2005, new kid on the block Nadal was beginning his own run—in his beloved Monte Carlo, of course—and two years later, Djokovic won his first in Miami.
By 2009, Nadal had drawn level with Federer, 15 apiece, and they remained neck and neck until 2012, but the Spaniard began to open clear water over the Swiss, only for Djokovic to draw level in 2016, and the Serb has been nip-and-tuck with Nadal ever since.
For the moment, Djokovic led with 37 Masters, Nadal owns 36. However, in match-wins, Nadal led all comers, up to 399 following his opening win over Sebastian Korda in Indian Wells. So his second test, against Briton and No27 seed Daniel Evans, would make it a round 400.
Another win would also extend Nadal’s clean, unbeaten run in 2022, currently at 16 wins. For he had won three titles back-to-back, and not just any titles: After the Melbourne 250, he won a record 21st Major at the Australian Open, and then the Acapulco 500, twice beating the now-No1 Daniil Medvedev.
Ultimately, he was scheduled to play Medvedev again in the semis in Indian Wells if he was to reach that 37th title, but it was a tricky draw. The quarters could bring No10 seed Jannik Sinner, who is a full 15 years his junior, No8 seed Casper Ruud, 12 years Nadal’s junior, or the unpredictable talent that is Nick Kyrgios, also almost a decade younger than Nadal.
Before that, Round 4 would offer up either No13 seed Denis Shapovalov, who took the Spaniard to five sets at the Australian Open, or No17 seed Reilly Opelka, who won Dallas and reached the final of Delray Beach immediately before this tournament. Both Opelka and Shapovalov are more than a dozen years Nadal’s junior.
The Spaniard’s first match had forced him to win a final-set tie break against the 21-year-old Korda, but in his next match, he faced the only other 30+ man in his quarter in the shape of Evans.
The contrast in their histories was writ large in their head-to-head. Nadal had 1,044 career wins to Evans’ 105. He had 91 titles to the Briton’s one. Yet there was no getting away from it: Evans was a late bloomer, galvanized into action after a year’s ban for taking recreational cocaine just as he broke into the top 50.
Unranked in April 2018, he rose to become the British No1, and achieved a career-high 22 last September. Always a player of great talent and flair, he how had focus and fitness too, helped perhaps by a training block with fellow single-hander Federer in 2019—and another with the Swiss in Dubai at the start of last season.
Evans, then, reached his first Masters semi in Monte-Carlo last year, beating Djokovic, and made two Masters doubles finals. He also started 2022 with three strong wins at the ATP Cup, including the likes of John Isner and Shapovalov.
But there was no getting away from it, this was a big ask for the Briton.
Evans got off to a great start, though, breaking in the third game, and outfoxing Nadal with his second serve to draw errors and hold, 3-1. But come the seventh game, Nadal began to crank up the energy after a sluggish start, and broke back, taking the lead 5-4.
Evans had the chance of another break, a long battle with Evans chasing to the net for some neat finishing, but Nadal found his big serve and passing shots in timely fashion, 6-5, and a couple more big strikes broke down Evans again for the set, 7-5.
Nadal broke early in the second, holding for a 3-0 lead. Evans had a chance to break back in fifth game, but the Spaniard would not back off, slotting a bullet of a forehand down the line. He pumped and jumped and led 4-1. A final forehand winner finished the job with a love hold, 6-3.
One thing was already assured before Nadal and Evans took to court: the winner could not encounter Medvedev come the semis.
It was always going to be a tough test for the Russian against Gael Monfils, because the charismatic Frenchman was playing some of his best and most focused tennis in a long time.
The two men were one apiece in previous matches, and both went hell for leather in the opening set, with just one break deciding it in Medvedev’s favour, 6-4.
But Monfils was playing with great pace, and reading and defending on the Russian’s serve with brilliance. After an exchange of breaks early in the set, Monfils broke again for a 5-3 lead, and served it out with aplomb, 6-3.
The pressure and speed from the Monfils game was making the Russian play at his highest level, and the errors started to creep in. Monfils broke in the first game of the third set, and Medvedev’s racket paid the price. The Frenchman made great play of clearing the debris before serving—the crowd loved it—and took a 2-0 lead.
Monfils made it 4-0 with another break before the top seed got on the board, but there was no relenting from Monfils, who needed six match points to close it out, but finally broke for set and match, 6-1.
Monfils will next play teenager Carlos Alcaraz, who cruised through Roberto Bautista Agut in little more than an hour, 6-2, 6-0. The 18-year-old is now 10-1 to start the season having become the youngest ATP500 champion in Rio last month. And already, pundits are tipping the muscular Spanish talent as a possible champion—if not this week, then at another Masters very soon.
Source: Sport Review