Monday April 18th, 2011

1. Clay King. Rafael Nadal won his first title since since the Japan Open last October, taking the Monte Carlo Masters Series event. Yes, it's clay-court season, which means that as a matter of ritual, Nadal knocks off any rust from his game, like granules of clay on his shoes, and begins to dominate. He's won the Monte Carlo title for seven straight years. Next it's on to Rome, which he's won five of the last six years. Then Madrid, where he's the defending champ. And finally, Paris, which he's won five times since 2005. Players looking for some consolation will note that Nadal was hardly at his best last week. He dropped a set to Andy Murray and was pushed in the final by David Ferrer. Of course, that Nadal can still win even playing his "B-level game" could just as easily kill confidence.

2. Back on track. Andy Murray finally got off his losing slide, playing his best tennis since Australia, reaching the semis in Monte Carlo and shaking off an elbow injury to give Nadal a fine match. He is now, presumably back to being British, not Scottish. Murray is simply too good a player to lose to sub-100 journeymen as he did at the last two Masters Series events. Good to see him back playing at the level to which we're accustomed.

3. Fed's struggles continue. On the other hand, it was another dispiriting outcome for Roger Federer. (We'll discuss more in this mailbag,) In attempt at optimism, we pointed out a few weeks ago that he was still beating up on players not named Nadal or Djokovic. Yet last week, Federer fell to Jurgen Melzer- a fine player but no top fiver-in midweek. The Mighty One shanked balls with his small-framed racket, returned poorly and generally got pushed around the court. Federer was typically measured afterward. Let's hope he knows something we don't because this getting problematic.

4. U.S. women's tennis no longer a force. It takes something less than a hardcore fan to know that the U.S. is not the tennis dynamo it once was, especially on the women's side. Remove the Williams sisters and the cupboard is lamentably bare. This was put into sharp relief last weekend as the Yankettes fell 5-0 to Germany in Fed Cup and was knocked from the top tier for the first time in history.

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