Rafael Nadal vs. Gael Monfils
Gael Monfils was not the expected finalist, but his play at Masters Miami was excellent so he is in a nice spot in terms of playing strong tennis on two different surfaces. Monfils also made a quarterfinal appearance in Melbourne and was a runner-up in Rotterdam earlier this year. Monfils may well be experiencing a late career surge. In a real sense, this is a real story in 2016, but all eyes are on Rafa. If Nadal wins Monte Carlo, evens the Masters 1000 race with Novak, and shows signs of “being back” or being on track to be back by the time Roland Garros starts, the Rafa vs. Nole story sells itself. The potential clash between the King of Clay and the dominant #1 seeking the last piece of a couple of big puzzles is going to be the story unless Gael Monfils frustrates Rafa.
What Will Happen?
I think Rafa is the clear favorite. Monfils has 5 career titles and 18 career runner-up finishes. Rafa is the most dominant clay court champion ever. Also, as well as Monfils is playing, he is unlikely to make court positioning an issue in his match versus Rafa. To beat Rafa, I think a player must return well and take advantage if Rafa plays too deep in the court. Monfils also often plays too deep in the court so I doubt he will suddenly pressure Rafa in this manner. If Rafa can hit his way into a comfort zone, he will likely win.
My Prediction: Rafael Nadal d. Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-3