When MC was stripped of it’s mandatory status a couple of years ago, I thought it was all but destined to collapse into a Rolex sponsored scenic sideshow. The stuff of $20K cocktails and starchy-white Marquees, where the rich and famous congregate to exhibit their shiny yachts, whilst professing an unbecoming “love for the game” that I suspect has rather more to do with wanting to preserve the event’s veneer of prestige.
More to the point, I rather believed it might turn into a cutesy opportunity for someone not named Nadal (and preferably outside of the top five) to pick up some “cheap” points – my thinking being that the big wigs would pencil in the week for some rest’n rehab ahead of Rome.
That the event should be a vehicle for Rafa’s return to form, shows what a jarring couple of years it’s been and speaks of exactly the sort of romanticism that makes this the sport I love.
You have to go back all the way to 1919 to find the last time we had a final here as one-sided as this, and even then Frenchman Max Décugis managed to get twice as many games from Romanian Nicholas Mishu (Massu’s family tree anyone?) as Dasco did from Rafa today.
Borg only lost around 21 games when he won the title in the early eighties (though remember to contextualise that by noting he took out more top ten players en route, including the world #1) – this year it only took Rafa 14.
The pedantic analyst in me remains keen to draw attention to the fact that Nadal’s first two opponents were, well, Michael Berrer and Thiemo de Bagel – and that his subsequent three were the hardest of hard boiled clay courters – physical agitators for the rest of the tour maybe, but largely benign in their effect on Rafa.
The unthinking fanboy, meanwhile, remains keen to whack the pedantic analyst over the head with a skillet.
We all know playing clay courters is little more than a practice session for Rafa - their shorter, loopier balls sit up nicely into his hitting zone making it likely he’d beat up on them armed with nothing more than that skillet of mine. And as for those practice sessions of his, well, they’re notorious for sometimes actually being more demanding than any three set match he plays.
What’s perhaps more interesting is how those subsequent three matches played out.
I must admit I had it chalked up in exactly the opposite way, with Ferrero possessing the weakest and most dated of clay court styles, and thereby the likeliest customer to take up a “buy-one-get-one-free” offer at the Nadal Bagel Factory.
Ferru, I essentially had down as the three litre engine version of the lower-emission Mosquito.
Dasco meanwhile, with his greater pace and forehand (as well as what he achieved in Oz last year), I had assumed to be the more dangerous of the three.
JCF’s greater experience and, I would say, fitness, as it turned out, trumped the mental fragilities of Dasco and Ferru, who looked beaten minutes after stepping on court – another glowing endorsement of his recently assumed “#3 clay courter” status, despite going out in straights.
Would I be more convinced if Rafa had faced Jo-Willy rather than Mosquito in the quarters and Djoko rather than Dasco in the final?
Probably, though I still think he’d have won the title. Equally noteworthy, however, is how this less gelatinous route through to victory will in all likelihood garner the levels of confidence and momentum necessary to oust a Jo-Willy, a Big Rob or indeed any other flatty come Rome.
Baptisms of fire are overrated.
Sometimes you need your way cushioned back to success.
With that in mind (and Rafaelites will be pleased to hear this), I’ve given the elephant it’s marching orders.
It’s been my muse over the past week charting Rafa’s ups and Muzza’s downs.
With Rafa on the up again, I’m afraid this room simply ain’t big enough for you – never mind the both of us.
Other MC musings:
-- If you’re at all unsure of your form on clay, best not to term one good showing your “best <ever> match <of the year>on clay” (delete as appropriate). Both Jo-Willy and Djoko said as much of their respective performances against Almagro and Nalbandian. Both also fell far short of that in their next matches, with Djoko in particular going down in flames.
-- To be fair to Tsonga, I actually thought he played well against Ferrero. That he can play on clay should be resoundingly clear. That he fell short against a guy he should be able to beat 24 hours later is rather telling too.
-- Djoko’s poor semi final showing is in some ways even worse than what happened to Murray, who does at least recognise the need to appear consistently mediocre in his “sticky patch”. That Djoko can go from his “best form of the year” to not far off his worst in the space of 24 hours suggests there’s still work to be done. Parting ways with Todd may only have been half of the story (if that).
-- Learnt to view Dasco in a gentler, more ‘familial’ light. With both his parents in Monte Carlo and his father courtside in almost every match this week, Dasco was able to ‘keep it real’ (I ascribe a new meaning to phrase that each day) if not completely rediscovering something of the form that’s eluded him since early last year. Daddy Dasco's presence seems to me be an assuring, undemanding and wholly worthwhile one - I’ve rather grown to like it.
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)