It was at Madison Square Garden 34 years ago that Vitas Gerulaitis, having just ended a run of 16 consecutive defeats at the hands of Jimmy Connors, was asked how he had finally managed to overcome his nemesis. Gerulaitis famously replied: “Because nobody beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row.”
David Ferrer might have been tempted to come up with his own version of that comment yesterday after ending his personal losing streak against Rafael Nadal. Ferrer had lost 17 matches on clay in succession to his fellow Spaniard until they came face to face in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters. On a day when Nadal’s error-strewn tennis matched the gloomy weather, Ferrer won 7-6, 6-4.
If Nadal’s defeat by Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final 12 months ago was shocking, yesterday’s result was seismic. Although the defeat to Djokovic ended his eight-year winning streak at the tournament, Nadal had only recently returned to competition following a lengthy absence through injury and the Serb had already beaten him in major clay-court finals.
Ferrer may be the world No 5 and a fine player on clay, but he had not beaten Nadal on his compatriot’s favourite surface since their first meeting in Stuttgart 10 years ago.
On this occasion, however, the world No 1 never looked like imposing his authority. Nadal made 44 unforced errors and was broken four times. He did not hold serve until the sixth game and even then did so only after saving four break points. The first set took 85 minutes before Ferrer closed it out by winning the tie-break 7-1.
Ferrer, who plays Stanislas Wawrinka in the semi-finals after the Australian Open champion beat Milos Raonic, broke in the third and seventh games in the second set to go 5-2 up. Nadal started a fightback but was unable to sustain it. At 5-4 Ferrer created match point with a forehand winner and converted it when Nadal put a backhand in the net. It was Nadal’s earliest loss in Monte Carlo since his defeat by Guillermo Coria in the third round on his debut in 2003 and ended his run of 30 consecutive victories on clay.
Nadal traced his problems back to the Australian Open final in January, when he lost to Wawrinka after suffering a back injury. “After what happened in Australia it was a little bit harder for me to find again the intensity, the confidence, the inside power that I always have,” Nadal said, though he added that his back was not an issue.
Ferrer said: “I have had to wait 10 years to beat him on clay. It was a long wait but I am pleased with the win and the way I played.”
Roger Federer also appeared to be on the brink of a surprising exit when he went within two points of defeat in the second set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga but the Swiss recovered to win 2-6, 7-6, 6-1. In the semi-finals he will face Djokovic, who met spirited resistance from Guillermo Garcia-Lopez before winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.