Nadal, Federer sail on in Monte Carlo
With the Queen Mary riding at anchor off shore, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer sailed serenely into the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters here, untroubled by two worthy opponents who just didn't possess sufficient class to worry these two exceptional champions.
Nadal defeated Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-2, 6-4 with a display that pleased the Spaniard because he felt his form had improved from the previous round.
"When I am playing well with the forehand, everything is a little bit less difficult," Nadal said.
Nadal then went on to explain that the changes in his game have evolved over time and are not particular to the clay courts on which he is supreme.
"If we compare today from 2006, for example, I am sure I play more aggressive than before," he said. "I'm playing more inside the court and running sometimes less than before because I'm not defending all the time. That's a change but it is on all surfaces, not just clay."
It was all too much for Gasquet, who was wildly cheered by the capacity crowd when he managed a late break back in the second set. But he could not sustain it and Nadal upped his career clay court record to 178 wins and just 6 losses.
Federer rolled past the tall Croat Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3, hitting the ball just as cleanly as he had done against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the previous round. Cilic stayed with him for a while in the first set, utilizing his big serve to good effect before a sudden stream of errors handed the Swiss the break and from then on it was the Federer serve that held sway.
"I was mixing it up well," Federer answered when asked about how his serve was looking better than it had done in Miami. "Using kick serves, slider, hitting hard enough, making sure that I don't have to go through that many second serves. On clay that's something you focus on because returning second serves is usually pretty routine here. Today was another solid performance that I am very happy about."
Earlier, the 20-year-old Canadian Milos Raonic went through a learning experience in the art of trying to compete against a top clay court player on their own surface when he was beaten by No. 4 seed David Ferrer 6-1, 6-3. The Spaniard had lost the first set when the pair met in the fourth round of the Australian Open in January before fighting back to win in four but, on this slower court, Ferrer was able to control the rallies and deal with the newcomer's massive serve.
Andy Murray's day was made easier when Gilles Simon hurt an ankle in the act of saving set point at 3-5 in the first set. He succeeded because Murray missed an open court but it was all to no avail because, after an injury time out, the Frenchman lost two quick points and the set 6-3.
Murray then incurred the wrath of the crowd by utilizing the drop shot — a tactic he tends to use quite a lot anyway — in a deliberate effort to make Simon run. He produced seven drop shots and won five of them amidst the boos. Simon actually broke the Scot's serve at the start of the second but his mobility was clearly impaired and he lost the match 6-3, 6-3.
Simon admitted that Murray was right to make him run, intimating that he would have done the same, and Andy had no regrets.
"I did what I had to do to win the match," he said afterwards. "I wanted to keep the points short and get off as quickly as possible."
Good thing he did because, within minutes of the match ending, the rain started as the Queen Mary slid off into the Mediterranean dusk.
Murray now has a great opportunity to reach the semifinals here for the second time in three years because Gael Monfils also hurt himself, damaging a wrist, and went down to the Portuguese qualifier Frederico Gil 7-5, 6-2. So Gil will now be Murray's opponent on Friday.