The prince and the president were in town yesterday, but at the Monte Carlo Country Club there is only one ruler. While Prince Albert of Monaco was meeting Nicolas Sarkozy on the French president's first official visit to the principality, Rafael Nadal, the king of clay, was lording it over David Ferrer here in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters.
If Roger Federer's victory in Hamburg 13 months ago proved that Nadal is not invincible on clay – it ended his 81-match unbeaten sequence on the surface – the Spaniard is looking more than capable of building another lengthy winning run. Having followed that defeat at the hands of his great rival with victories in his two subsequent clay-court tournaments in 2007, at Roland Garros and in Stuttgart, Nadal has hit the dirt running this year.
The world No 2 dropped only eight games in his first two contests here, against Mario Ancic and Juan-Carlos Ferrero, and will see his 6-1, 7-5 victory over Ferrer as even more significant. Ferrer, the world No 5, would probably have been voted the game's most improved player last year but for Novak Djokovic and had also beaten Nadal in their two previous meetings, at last year's US Open and Tennis Masters Cup.
Nadal, however, has used this tournament as the springboard for his domination of the clay-court season for the past three years and clearly has his eyes set on becoming the first player since the New Zealander Anthony Wilding in 1914 to win the title here for a fourth year in succession.
Having been swept aside in 32 minutes in the first set, Ferrer recovered to break Nadal twice at the start of the second and take a 3-0 lead but let his opponent off the hook with errors when serving at 5-3 and 40-0. Four games later Nadal converted his first match point in spectacular fashion, chasing down Ferrer's stop volley before crashing a superb forehand winner down the line. Nadal will now play Nikolay Davydenko, the world No 4, who took two and three-quarter hours to overcome Igor Andreev 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
Nadal has beaten Federer in the past two Monte Carlo finals and a third meeting is possible, although the world No 1 has to find a way past Djokovic, a 6-4, 6-0 winner yesterday over the American Sam Querrey. Although Djoko-vic, the world No 3, has been the most successful player this year, Federer will have every reason for confidence after a 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over David Nalbandian.
The Swiss, who had been 5-1 down in the final set against the journeyman Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo only 48 hours earlier, looked in excellent form against the Argentine. Federer converted all five of his break points and is striking the ball with a confidence that is increasing with every day.
*Andy Murray has confirmed that he will play in the clay-court tournament in Barcelona next week.