Saturday, April 21, 2007

Monte Carlo: Clash of the Titans

Clay, Part V

by Craig Hickman

The TMS Monte Carlo final will feature tennis' greatest rivalry, the (re)match fans worldwide most wanted to see. The King of Clay brings a 66-match claycourt winning streak to the table against the Swiss Maestro, who hasn't appeared in a final since Dubai. Neither has dropped a set this week.

"It's always fun to see the No. 1 and No. 2 playing against each other," Federer said. "I hope we can live up to the expectations and play a good match."

Roger will want to notch his first win in five tries over Nadal on clay to boost his confidence for Roland Garros.

But Nadal, who's dripping with an unparelleled ferociousness right about now, doesn't look like he'll be all that fazed.

"I arrived here playing better than last year," Nadal said. "Last year I was very nervous all the time because I was defending a lot of points. This tournament, I feel so much better. I am playing without pressure."

Not good news for Roger, who, quiet as it's kept, is weighted with pressure to win Roland Garros, which most rational minds agree won't happen unless he can beat Nadal in a best-of-five encounter.

The Monte Carlo final, unlike their previous claycourt epics, is best-of-three so Roger's chances increase, if only by a smidgen. Overall, he's won 5 sets against Nadal on clay, but never more than two in a match. Unfortunately for him, that was in a best of five final in Rome last year. And even then, Rafa was the first to get two sets under his belt.

It's unwise to pick against Rafa in a claycourt final. It would be even more unwise to do so given Nadal's current form and state of mind. I'll stick with the King of Clay in three sets.

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