Rafael Nadal goes up a gear in search of 11th Monte Carlo title

Rafael Nadal has won 10 Monte Carlo titles and looks like he is about to add an 11th.
Updated 20 April 2018
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Rafael Nadal goes up a gear in search of 11th Monte Carlo title

  • Nadal looks back to his very best on the claycourts he loves.
  • Monte Carlo serves as great preparation for the French Open next month.

Rafael Nadal crushed fifth seed Dominic Thiem 6-0, 6-2 to romp into the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals on Friday as he stepped up his bid for an 11th title in the principality in style.
A tight match had been anticipated, but Nadal produced one of the most dominant wins of his career as Thiem fell to pieces in the Monaco sunshine.
The Austrian didn’t get on the scoreboard until the 10th game, drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
But it was a ruthless performance from the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who has to successfully defend the title this week to remain ahead of Roger Federer at the top of the world rankings.
“Here I think I played great ... Have been a great day for me, and a very good result against a very difficult rival,” said Nadal.
The Spaniard is now just two wins away from a record 31st Masters title, after winning 32 consecutive sets on clay.
Nadal will face Grigor Dimitrov in his 13th Monte Carlo semifinal on Saturday, but the Bulgarian will need a massive improvement from his win over David Goffin if he’s to stand a chance of claiming a second career victory against the 10-time champion.
“It’s difficult to play better than today,” admitted Nadal.
“Being honest, I have to recognize that. But my goal is to rest and to try to wake up tomorrow again with the same energy and to go on court with the same mentality, try to play close to the way that I played today.”
Nadal started as if he knew Thiem was a potential threat, holding to love before breaking the 24-year-old at the first time of asking.
Thiem was not serving at the same level he managed in his win over two-time champion Novak Djokovic on Thursday, and although he staved off five break points in game four, he dumped a forehand into the net to gift Nadal a 4-0 lead.
Thiem was struggling, but Nadal barely missed a shot in a near-perfect opening set that he wrapped up with another strong return.
It was the 12th time Nadal had whitewashed a set against a top-10 player, and he got the second set underway with another love hold.
Thiem was wilting in the sweltering conditions and under the pressure from the other side of the net, and then back-to-back miscued forehands saw him lose an eighth straight game.
The Austrian, a two-time French Open semifinalist, finally held his serve to trail 3-1 and deny Nadal the first 6-0, 6-0 victory of his career on the ATP Tour.
The 31-year-old brought up match point with a searing forehand winner, and completed a 68-minute demolition as Thiem fired a backhand into the net.
Dimitrov benefitted from a second-set collapse by Goffin to reach the semifinals for the first time with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) victory.
The 26-year-old Bulgarian got the better of a nervy Goffin in a repeat of last year’s ATP Tour Finals final.
The pair will team up later on Friday in the doubles quarter-finals, but there was no charity on offer from Dimitrov toward his partner turned opponent.
Dimitrov has struggled on clay in the past and has never passed the French Open third round, but he was too strong for Goffin in the principality as he fought back from 5-1 down in the second set.
“Yes, for sure he’s the favorite. Yes, he has a great record. Yes, he’s the best player on clay. That definitely doesn’t discourage me,” said the fourth seed.
“That excites me to get out on Saturday and play my match, simple as that.”
Kei Nishikori overcame a blip at the end of the second set to see off second seed Marin Cilic and reach his first Masters semifinal since Canada in July 2016.
The Japanese only returned from a right wrist injury in January, but played one of his best matches this year to beat Cilic 6-4, 6-7 (1/7), 6-3 in a rematch of the Croatian’s 2014 US Open final victory.
He will next face either Richard Gasquet or Alexander Zverev in the last four.


Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

Updated 24 May 2018
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Benevolence, not bluster: How ‘Brand Salah’ bucks the trend

  • Mohamed Salah lines up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid on Saturday
  • Mohamed Salah has been unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region

LONDON: On Saturday Mohamed Salah will line up for Liverpool in the Champions League final against Real Madrid.
He will do so not only with the every member of the Red army behind him, but also the entire Arab world.
That is testament to his stratospheric rise — over the past nine months the Egyptian ace has gone from being a very good player, but one deemed as needing to justify his $52 million transfer fee, to a global superstar and cultural phenomenon.
As with any sporting star, with the adulation and attention comes potential pitfalls and, invariably, a new lexicon. So it was not surprising to hear the 25-year-old speak of “his brand” when he was unveiled as DHL’s new brand ambassador for the MENA region on Wednesday. Stars becoming brands is almost cliche now and one that Salah has clearly taken on board — he now has even his own logo.
“We are proud of him. Over the past two years, no has done what he has done. He has proved himself as one of the best and we wanted to deal with no one else, just him,” CEO of DHL in the Middle East and North Africa, Nour Suliman, said. “He is competing on another level and is the star of the Arab world. No one in the Arab world has done what he is doing. We are very proud to have him.”
Those types of corporate events, where a big multinational signs a deal with the latest big, young thing, lend themselves to the odd dollop of hyperbole. But there is little doubting the impact Salah has had on the pitch for Liverpool and Egypt, and off it in becoming a true Arab icon. And his utterance of the word “brand” is where Salah as a walking cliche begins and ends.
Every year in Egypt ahead of Ramadan the best dates are named after the most popular person in the country — the man or woman revered by the nation at that moment. In the past, the staple food of the holy month has tended to be named after political leaders.
This year there was no competition: The most succulent date has been named after Salah. At the DHL press conference he was presented with a packet of dates emblazoned with his face and name.
It said much about the man that he both looked and confessed to being “embarrassed.”
This week the British Museum in London displayed Salah’s green football boots as part of its Modern Egypt exhibition. And in a documentary about the player broadcast in the UK, he was credited with increasing attendances at England’s oldest mosque in Liverpool and improving the image of Islam by Dr. Abdul Hamid, a trustee at the mosque.
So while the signing of big deals hints he is very much the modern-day footballing superstar, everything else off the pitch suggests something else.
Salah is on social media, but does not, like many sports stars, live on it; he knows he is a hero for many, but pays more than mere lip service to his position as a role model; and he embraces attention (of both opposition defenders and fans) rather than seemingly getting annoyed by it if things are not going his way.
“I am not heavy into social media, I am on it and aware of it, but I don’t follow it that closely. It does not influence me,” he said.
“I am aware young people look up to me and I feel great that they do and that I can influence a young footballer to play better or train harder, or do better; that that makes me proud.”
This season Salah has done what few footballers have done before, transcend the game, and he has done so in a way characterized by benevolence rather than bluster.
Against Real Madrid he can again illustrate just what a talent he is — and if he does lead Liverpool to their sixth European Cup triumph, you get the feeling he will not let the adulation go to his head.