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Tennis: Nadal warms up for Australian Open with Qatar Open triumph

World No. 1 Rafa Nadal won the Qatar ExxonMobil Open for the first time in six attempts by beating Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2. Photos: AFP.

World No. 1 Rafa Nadal won the Qatar ExxonMobil Open for the first time in six attempts. Photos: AFP.

January 5, 2014: World No. 1 Rafa Nadal beat Frenchman Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-7(5), 6-2 in just under two hours to win Saturday’s final of the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, the Spaniard’s first title in six visits to Doha.

 

Nadal, the 2010 runner-up, captured his first trophy of 2014 and 61st career title on the ATP World Tour to pass Andre Agassi for sole ownership of the eighth spot in the list of most Open Era titles.

 

The 27-year-old also claimed sole possession of 13th position in the all-time World Tour match wins list with 663 victories, supplanting Michael Chang.

 

“Every victory is important and this title means a lot to me,” said Nadal, who has now won titles in 17 different countries. “It is the first time in my career that I am able to start the season with a victory. That’s always important.”

 

The Spaniard sprinted to a resounding 5-0 lead in the first set and the rout appeared to be on. However, Monfils’ intensity increased early in the second set, the Frenchman breaking for a 3-0 lead and eventually forcing a decider after hammering an ace on his third set point in a tiebreak.

 

Nadal replied with a break of serve in the fourth game of the third set and saved four break points from 40-0 down a game later. The Mallorca native made adjustments in his return position as the match wore on, retreating further behind the baseline to negate Monfils’ power, and converted his second match point.

 

A shorter-haired Nadal impressed in Doha as he prepares for the Australian Open.

Nadal dominated the first and third sets against Gael Monfils in Doha to win his first title of 2014.

Nadal said: “The important thing is I played with high intensity on my legs going for the ball, playing more inside, having more control of the point, playing from inside the line and changing directions much better with the forehand. I think I played very well with my backhand without many mistakes, trying to play to the open court.”

 

Monfils has played three of his 20 career finals in Doha, having finished runner-up to Roger Federer in 2006 and countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012. However, he was ultimately unable rediscover the form from two previous wins over Nadal in Doha, in 2009 and 2012, dropping to 2-9 in their head-to-head encounters.

 

“Rafa put pressure on me from the first point. He was very aggressive from the first game and it was tough for me to adjust,” said the World No. 31, who won the last of his four ATP titles in Stockholm in 2011.

 

“[In the second set] I tried to play with more power and stronger, but it’s always tough against him and at the end he was a bit better than me. I’ll still work hard and will be confident the first day in Australia.”

 

With Novak Djokovic opting not to play in Qatar, Nadal further built on his lead in the Emirates ATP Rankings, adding 250 points as well as US$188,600 in prize money. Nadal also halted a potential three-peat of French champions in Doha, with Richard Gasquet claiming victory last year after Tsonga’s triumph in 2012.

 

ATP World Tour Open Era Title Leaders

1. Jimmy Connors (109)

2. Ivan Lendl (94)

3. Roger Federer, John McEnroe (77 each)

5. Bjorn Borg, Pete Sampras  (64 each)

7. Guillermo Vilas (62)

8. Rafael Nadal (61)

9. Andre Agassi (60)

10. Ilie Nastase (58)

11. Boris Becker, Rod Laver (49)

 

Source: ATP

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