The Monte Carlo Masters will always be a special milestone for Rafael Nadal since his leap to stardom in 2005. He’s a nine-time champion at the scenic venue that may as well be the principality for the King of Clay.
But which of those titles rank as his most important final wins? The stories behind the wins are more than tall tales about the Spaniard.
The 2005 Final
Nadal defeated Guillermo Coria, 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5
Nadal had not even reached his 19th birthday, but he was rising as the biggest rival to then-world No. 1 Roger Federer. Still, he had lost a two-set lead to Federer in the Miami final, and he needed a big title on clay.
He made his definitive statement by crushing 2004 French Open finalists Gaston Gaudio and Guillermo Coria with new-age retrieving and offensive topspin. It was an astonishing revolution born on clay that completely erased the remnants of the previous generation.
The title undoubtedly gave Nadal the confidence to outlast Coria in the Rome final just weeks later and then run through Federer in the French Open semifinals. The Spaniard was well on his way to legend status.
The 2006 Final
Nadal defeated Roger Federer, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5)
It was the first and best of the Nadal-Federer trilogy at Monte Carlo from 2006 to 2008. Nadal won all three contests, but the 2006 version was the most important of those. It was the last time the event would require best of five sets for the final, and Nadal split two tiebreakers and won the other two sets decisively.
It only reaffirmed Nadal’s place as a budding King of Clay, and it most certainly helped bolster him in the French Open showdown when he denied the Swiss Maestro a chance to hold all four majors.
The 2009 Final
Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic, 6-3, 2-6, 6-1
After conquering Federer at the 2008 Wimbledon and 2009 Australian Open final, a No. 1-ranked Nadal added Indian Wells and showed that he was going to be impossible to stop on his beloved red clay.
Enter young Novak Djokovic, a year removed from his breakout major title at the 2008 Australian Open and looking to slice into Nadal’s clay empire. The Spaniard kept his grip on Monte Carlo for the fifth straight year and foreshadowed the great rivalry between the two superstars.
The 2012 Final
Nadal defeated Djokovic, 6-3, 6-1
This might have been Nadal’s most important win at Monte Carlo. It would seal his record-setting eight consecutive titles, but perhaps more importantly, stop a seven-final losing streak against Djokovic.
Djokovic looked out of sorts with a shaky serve and was worn down from a year of dominance. Nadal went undefeated on clay during this stretch with titles in Barcelona, Rome and the French Open.
The 2016 Final
Nadal defeated Gael Monfils, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0
Four years between Monte Carlo titles might have seemed like four decades, but Nadal finally got Monte Carlo crown No. 9 by defeating Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray and Gael Monfils. It was his first big title since the 2014 French Open and restored the Spaniard as a French Open title candidate.
Is title No. 10 coming right up? Stay tuned this week for Nadal's first big clay-court test of the spring. He survived his opener 6-0, 5-7, 6-3 over Kyle Edmund on Wednesday.