Nadal belies tender years to plunder the riches of Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal, whose pirate pants made him look as if he should be scampering up the rigging of a galleon, seems certain to plunder the treasure chests of tournaments for years to come.

Rafael Nadal, whose pirate pants made him look as if he should be scampering up the rigging of a galleon, seems certain to plunder the treasure chests of tournaments for years to come.

The 18-year-old from Majorca, a hero of his nation's Davis Cup victory over the US last December, became one of the youngest players to win a Masters Series title yesterday, two weeks since he came within two points of defeating Roger Federer in the final in Key Biscayne, having led the world No 1 by two sets to love.

Moving from the concrete courts of Florida to the red clay of Monte Carlo, Nadal showed why he is among the favourites for the French Open, defeating the sixth seed, Guillermo Coria of Argentina, 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5, in just over three hours.

Coria, the defending champion, is almost unbeatable on the world's slowest surface. His compatriot, Gaston Gaudio, was the last to deny him, in the final at Roland Garros last June.

Nadal accounted for Gaudio for the loss of only three games in the quarter-finals last Friday - and on Saturday overcame Richard Gasquet, the French 18-year-old who stunned the tennis world by ending Federer's 25-match winning streak.

Yesterday's triumph takes Nadal to 11th in the world rankings and second in the ATP Champions Race, and also made up for his defeat by Coria in the third round here in 2003.

There were spectacular points, especially in the opening two sets, with Coria terminating many a rally with drop shots.

Nadal, though broken in the first game, recovered to 3-3, Coria double-faulting on break point. Coria lost his serve again at 4-3, and Nadal saved three break points in the ninth game before serving out the set.

There was worse to come for Coria in the second set as he finished on the wrong end of lengthy rallies. Broken to love in the opening game, he double-faulted to go 4-1 down, and Nadal broke to love again in the seventh game.

Fortunes changed in the third set as Coria's pride forced him into the match. The Argentinian turned the set into a whitewash after recovering from 0-40 while serving in the fourth game.

Nadal's response was to take the first three games of the fourth set, but missed three break points for 5-1, and Coria levelled the set at 4-4. "I remembered what happened against Federer," Nadal said. "and I was determined it was not going to happen again." The Argentinian had break point for 5-4, but Nadal chased every ball and, in a dramatic finish, managed to convert his second match point on Coria's serve in the 12th game.

Coria tried another drop-shot, but Nadal pounced on it and gleefully hit a winning forehand down the line.

"It would have been tough for me to play a fifth set," said Nadal, "but I would still have done my best to win."

¿ Andrew Murray, Britain's 17-year-old US Open junior champion, has received a wild card for this week's Barcelona tournament. Murray, ranked 393, is due to play tomorrow against the 25-year-old Czech Jan Hernych, ranked 93rd.

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