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Rafa too good for Monfils

Doha: Rafael Nadal began his year in perfect fashion with a three-set victory over Frenchman Gael Monfils in the Qatar Open, in Doha, on Saturday, as he warms up for this month’s Australian Open.

Spain’s world No. 1 put down an ominous marker for the year’s first Grand Slam by claiming his 61st career title with a 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-2 win over flamboyant Monfils in the desert city.

The triumph took Nadal past American Andre Agassi into eighth spot on the all-time list of ATP Tour title winners and helped him extend his lead at the top of the world rankings over Novak Djokovic, who opted not to play this week.

“Every victory is important and the title today means a lot to me. It is the first time in my career that I am able to start the season with a victory. That’s always important,” Nadal said after adding Qatar to his long list of successful venues.

Monfils’ two career wins over Nadal were in Doha in 2009 and 2012 but, apart from the second set, he was outmuscled by the Spaniard, who moved smoothly on the hard court and was far too rugged.

“Rafa put pressure on me from the first point,” said Monfils. “He was very aggressive from the first game and it was tougher for me to adjust.”

Nadal is now one title behind Argentine Guillermo Vilas and closing in on the 64 of Sweden’s Bjorn Borg and American Pete Sampras, who are joint fifth on the all-time list.

“The important thing today (Sunday) is I played with high intensity on my legs going for the ball, playing more inside, having more control of the point, playing from inside the line and changing directions much better with the forehand,” Nadal said. “I think I played very well with my backhand without many mistakes, trying to play to the open court.”

Monfils was unable rediscover the magic from two previous wins over Nadal in Doha, in 2009 and 2012, dropping to 2-9 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head with the defeat.

Three of Monfils’ 20 career finals have come in the Qatari capital, having finished runner-up to Roger Federer in 2006 and countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2012. The World No. 31 was bidding for a fifth title and first since prevailing in Stockholm in 2011. He fell to 0-8 in title bouts against Top 10 opposition and 0-16 when dropping the first set. (agencies)