Rafael Nadal’s priority after reaching his 12th Monte Carlo Masters final was to whip out his phone and frantically text coach Carlos Moya. Despite a comfortable 6-4, 6-1 win against No 5-ranked Grigor Dimitrov, he had a pressing concern given how quickly he was texting. What frantic emergency could command such attention?
“I was texting Carlos to tell him that we need to book a court quick,” Nadal said. “I wanted to hit some forehands winners that I think I need for tomorrow.”
So the top-ranked Nadal, a 10-time French Open champion with 75 career titles, hurried to another clay court just for forehand practice ahead of Sunday’s final against Kei Nishikori, an opponent he has beaten nine times out of 11. While it may seem absurd, it is a reminder of the relentless perfectionist Nadal is even on his best surface.
No matter that he has not dropped a set in six matches since coming back from a recurrence of a right hip injury; he is more focused on ironing out even the smallest of flaws. Even though he crushed Dimitrov, as he had Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals on Friday, Nadal was not satisfied.
“I really had a lot of chances in the first set to have (a) little bit better score. I didn’t convert (them),” he said. “The only way to hold the level, and to hold the chances to keep winning after 10, 12 years, is to improve things.”
He remains on course for a record-extending 11th Monte Carlo title and record 31st Masters. He shares the Masters record with Novak Djokovic, whose 30 wins include two here. Nishikori, who is making an encouraging return from a serious right-wrist injury, beat No. 4 Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“It’s getting there,” said Nishikori, who has missed the past two majors because of a torn tendon. “Little bit sore still.”
Nishikori won on his first match point when Zverev scooped a backhand wide. The German player looked jaded, having finished a long and grueling quarterfinal at 9 p.m. on Friday.
Nishikori has never won a Masters and last reached a final two years ago in Montreal. He beat Nadal in their last encounter two years ago to take the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. He knows it will be a different challenge toppling him in Monte Carlo.
“He’s been dominating crazy this week,” Nishikori said. “On clay he’s the king.”
Nadal never looked imperious as he beat Dimitrov for the 11th time in 12 career meetings. “In the second set, he started to miss more,” Nadal said modestly. “I was there solid. That’s all. Being in 12 finals already here is something difficult to imagine,” added Nadal, who has lost only one, to Djokovic in 2013.
Dimitrov came out firing, but he was mostly more miss than hit. The Bulgarian cracked trying to serve for 5-5. He made consecutive double faults and hit a wild forehand long to trail 15-40. He saved one set point but Nadal was in ruthless mode and took the next chance.
Two consecutive love breaks and three easy holds made it 5-0 to Nadal in the second set. Nadal’s victory at Monte Carlo last year made him the first men’s tennis player in the Open era to win the same title 10 times. He then won a 10th title at Barcelona and at Roland Garros.
Follow the Independent Sport on Instagram here, for all of the best images, videos and stories from around the sporting world.