ATP Monte Carlo final preview: Albert Ramos Viñolas vs Rafael Nadal

The first European Masters 1000 clay court event has reached almost reached its conclusion, and the final sees an all-Spanish affair between nine-time and defending champion Rafael Nadal against surprise finalist and 15th seed Albert Ramos Viñolas.

ATP Monte Carlo final preview: Albert Ramos Viñolas vs Rafael Nadal
Ramos Viñolas (left, Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images) and Nadal (right, Photo by Valery Hache / Getty Images) will do battle for the third time with Nadal winning their previous two encounters on the clay courts in Barcelona

The 2017 edition of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters has been one of the best tournaments that the tournament has produced in recent years with plenty of upsets and comeback victories which have certainly been the theme of this week. The final has come down to two players, with one player, that the majority of the tennis world expected to see with the defending champion Rafael Nadal, who will be chasing a record-extending tenth title in Monte Carlo. The former world number one will defend his title against a familiar face in his compatriot Albert Ramos Viñolas, who has produced scintillating tennis this week and has certainly earned the right to be competing in his biggest final of his career.

Nadal's route to the final

The nine-time Monte Carlo Rolex Masters champion received a bye in the opening round as one of the top eight seeds, who didn't have to play in the first round. The fourth seed began his quest for "La Decima" against Britain's Kyle Edmund. The former world number one looked to have been in control of his encounter with Edmund, winning the first set without a loss of a game, however, the Brit stepped up and took the second set before the Spaniard found a way to edge Edmund in a three-set thriller, 6-0, 5-7, 6-3. The nine-time French Open champion's quest continued into the third round against Germany's 14th seed Alexander Zverev. Zverev had troubled Nadal in their previous two encounters, however, this was at their first meeting on clay and Zverev was out of his depth against the fourth seed. It was a clinical performance for the Spaniard who only needed a mere 69 minutes to eliminate Zverev from the tournament, 6-1, 6-1. Nadal had a long wait on Friday as he was scheduled last on Court Rainier III, as the three proceeding quarterfinal matches all went to three sets. Nevertheless, Nadal defeated Argentina's Diego Schwartzman, 6-4, 6-4 to reach his 12th semifinal in Monte Carlo. The seedings projected Nadal to face former world number one and two-time champion Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, however, the Serb lost to an inspired David Goffin in the quarterfinals. The defending champion was a break down against Goffin in their first career meeting in the opening set but Nadal fought back and won the match in straight sets, 6-3, 6-1, sealing his berth in his 11th final in Monte Carlo and 44th Masters 1000 final in the process.

The Spaniard will be going after his 70th career title and 50th on clay courts (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
The Spaniard will be going after his 70th career title and 50th on clay courts (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Ramos Viñolas' route to the final

The 15th seed surprised plenty of spectators this week in Monte Carlo with the tennis he has played this week. The world number 24 will enter the top 20 for the first time in his career, and should he upset his compatriot in the final, he will move up to 14 in the world. Ramos Viñolas didn't receive a bye in the first round as only the top eight seeded players get that privilege. Nevertheless, it has been beneficial for the Spaniard as he cruised past Argentine qualifiers Renzo Olivo and Carlos Berlocq only dropping nine games in his opening two matches. The third round pitted Ramos Viñolas against three-time semifinalist and world number one Andy Murray. The 29-year-old dropped the opening set but stormed back in the second set, however, it seemed as though that it would be a tough loss for Ramos Viñolas with Murray taking a commanding 4-0 in the final set. However, the Spaniard recovered to win the next four consecutive games to level the match at 4-4. Nevertheless, Ramos Viñolas held his nerve to record the biggest victory of his career by defeating the reigning Wimbledon champion, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. Another Grand Slam champion was lying in wait for the 15th seed in the quarterfinals as he was against 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, who won their last three successive encounters. The duo split the opening two sets but the fifth seed took the initiative in the final set by leading 2-0, however, another comeback was produced by Ramos Viñolas who took the last six games to win the match, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2, advancing to his biggest semifinal to date. In the semifinals, Ramos Viñolas was up against another higher seeded player, with two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist and 11th seed Lucas Pouille on the other side of the net. The Spaniard played a good match against the Frenchman and Pouille appeared to be hampered by a back injury in the final set, nevertheless, Ramos Viñolas didn't let that distract him as he won his third successive three-set matches against Pouille, 6-3, 5-7, 6-1. Ramos Viñolas will be appearing in his fifth career final and second final of 2017.

Ramos Viñolas is looking to become the eighth Spanish man to win the title in Monte Carlo (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)
Ramos Viñolas is looking to become the eighth Spanish man to win the title in Monte Carlo (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

Their history

The two Spaniards have met on two ocassions and both encounters were on the clay courts in Ramos Viñolas' birthplace of Barcelona. Nadal won their first meeting in the quarterfinal in 2013, 6-3, 6-0, and they met the following year in the second round, which was closer but the fourth seed prevailed, 7-6 (2), 6-4 in straight sets.

Who wins the title?

Both players have played awe-inspiring this week in Monte Carlo but you have to feel that Nadal will lift his tenth title in Monte Carlo, which would be a landmark, 50th career title on clay courts. This will also be the former world number one's 105th career final which is an astonishing feat. The defending champion is competing in his fourth final in 2017, which is the most out of any player so far. Nadal is full of confidence at the moment with his compatriot Carlos Moya a part of his coaching team, and the fourth seed will be desperate to win a title as soon as possible. Nadal lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open and Miami Open finals and suffered his first career defeat in the final of Acapulco to Sam Querrey in straight sets. The nine-time champion can lay down a marker for the European Clay court season, which he looks set to dominate once more as the top two players, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are struggling for form this year, and Roger Federer is not set to play on clay until the French Open.

Ramos Viñolas has a chance to beat Nadal but he will need to play aggressive, and keep the former world number one firmly placed behind the baseline, and he will want to keep the points short against his fellow leftie, as Nadal is a better player than Ramos Viñolas in long rallies. The 15th seed is playing too well not to take a set off Nadal but as this is his biggest final of his career, and the former world number one has been in 10 previous finals, it will keep him the slight edge. However, you cannot rule Ramos Viñolas out and no matter what happens, it has been a very successful week for last year's French Open quarterfinal.

The men's singles final will take place at not before 2:30 pm local time on Court Rainier III, and you should expect to see Nadal win his tenth title in Monte Carlo, after losing three finals in 2017.

Prediction: Nadal in straight sets