Rafael Nadal has beaten Gael Monfils in straight sets at the Madrid Open to close in on an astonishing record that would cement his status among the immortals of tennis.
The World No.1 recorded his 20th straight win on clay as he began his quest for a sixth title in the Spanish capital, defeating Frenchman Monfils 6-3 6-1.
Nadal, who received a bye in the opening round, fired 17 winners and went on to lose just one of 13 service points in the second set to seal victory.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has now won 48 consecutive sets on the surface, two sets shy of breaking American John McEnroe’s record of 49 straight sets on a single surface in 1984.
If Nadal can overcome Diego Schwartzman in straight sets during his next match in Madrid, the Spaniard will equal the feat that McEnroe managed more than three decades ago on carpet.
On current form, it would take a brave person to bet against the King of Clay surpassing the American legend.
“The start of the clay-court season has been almost perfect for me,” said Nadal, who extended his winning run on the surface to 20 matches.
Incredibly though, the Spaniard said the prospect of breaking McEnroe’s long-standing record was an irrelevant thought that hadn’t even entered his mind.
“You find a new stat,” Nadal laughed. “I’m lost. Each time is a less important stat.
“Look, if it was important, I had no idea about that stat. I am not saying that it’s not important, but what is important is I made it to the third round of this tournament.
“I’ve played a really good match. I beat an opponent who is difficult. The feelings are very good.
“This is what matters and what motivates me and gives me joy: the feeling to be able to play another day in front of the crowd here in Madrid.
“Believe me that when I going to go on court tomorrow, my only goal going to be try to play my best and try to win the match.
“I don’t want to think about these things. If (it) happens later, okay, happened, good.
“But being honest, I don’t know if these kind of records are very important.
“I don’t say I don’t care because better to have these kind of things than don’t have it.
“But I am in a tennis tournament, and think about that, nothing else.”