MONTE CARLO, Monaco Rafael Nadal thrived on clay again Sunday, winning the Monte Carlo Masters against defending champion Guillermo Coria in four sets and honing his game as he awaits his French Open debut.
The 18-year-old Spaniard won 6-3, 6-1, 0-6, 7-5 for his first Masters Series title. He became the first teenager in more than a decade to win at Monte Carlo.
''This is my first very important tournament win,'' Nadal said. ''I was happy to win the Davis Cup, now this is incredible.''
Nadal is expected to play in key clay-court tournaments in Barcelona, Rome and Hamburg before going to Roland Garros at the end of May.
''If I play like this, I can have some good results, but I am not the favorite,'' Nadal said. ''My objective is to improve my serve, my volley and my slice. ... If I improve these shots I can win some more matches.''
In Monaco, Nadal beat both of last year's French Open finalists and promising French teenager Richard Gasquet in three straight days.
''I feel that I improved all the time,'' Nadal said. ''I was not missing a lot of shots and making very few unforced errors, which is very important on clay.''
Coria, the 2004 French Open runner-up, called Nadal ''the best player on clay at the moment.'' The sixth-seeded Argentine was going for his first ATP title this season.
''I didn't know where to put the ball,'' Coria said. ''He was very strong.''
Coria made a good comeback in the last two sets, but the 11th-seeded Nadal held on for his fourth career title. The last teenager to win Monte Carlo was Andrei Medvedev in 1994. Nadal's other titles this year, in Brazil and Mexico, also were on clay.
Coria was appearing in his third consecutive Monte Carlo final after losing to Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003 and defeating Rainer Schuettler last year.
Nadal won 11 of 12 games in one stretch and produced a love service game to take the second set. Coria crouched forward in his chair and shook his head as the players waited to start the third set. He responded well, winning the set in 32 minutes. Nadal eased up midway through the third set.
''I'm not made for five sets on clay, and when it was 2-0, 3-0 in the set I stopped playing for the last few games,'' he said.
Nadal's excellent lob in the fifth game of the third set helped put him ahead 4-1, but Coria clawed back.
''I was a little bit scared because it was like Miami,'' Nadal said.
In a title match this month in Key Biscayne, Fla., Nadal blew a two-set lead and 5-3 advantage in the tiebreaker in a loss to top-ranked Roger Federer. On Sunday, the youngster missed two chances to break Coria and then surrendered his serve, giving the Argentine hope at 4-4.
Down 6-5 and serving, Coria sliced a shot into the net. Coria slammed a forehand down the line to save one match point. On the following point, his mistimed drop shot gave Nadal an easy pass.
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