The clay season is upon us, and if you know anything about tennis you’ll know what that means.
The way that Rafael Nadal has dominated the clay tournaments over the last few years is nothing short of astounding, and as the first clay tournament in Monte Carlo gets underway this weekend, it would take a brave gambler to bet on anyone other than Nadal. The Spaniard’s career percentage of wins on the surface stands at a mind boggling 93%. He has won 298 games on clay, losing only 21 in his 12-year career. He’s won eight previous titles at Monte Carlo most in regulation straight sets.
When one considers these sorts of statistics, Nadal seems impenetrable and unbeatable. And for most players he is. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, there’s one particular player who has done a good job at getting under his skin over the last couple of years. We are of course talking about Novak Djokovic.
After a disappointing 2013 in which Djokovic surrendered the number one spot to the superb Nadal, there were plenty questioning whether Djokovic was on the slide. The reality is that he has come back with a vengeance, and after winning the last two titles in California and Miami – defeating Nadal in the final of the latter – Djokovic remains the only player who looks capable of toppling the Spaniard on clay.
The Serb will take serious comfort from the fact that the only match Nadal lost on clay last season was against none other than Djokovic himself, in the very tournament that is about to take place. That straight sets win in the Monaco heat ended Nadal’s astounding run of 46 wins at the tournament, and confirmed what most of us had only dared to whisper: Nadal might actually have a match on clay now.
As we know, Monte Carlo is not the big one. But its proximity to the big one – the French Open – is such that both Nadal and Djokovic will be desperately hoping to lay down a marker ahead of Roland Garros. It is in Paris that Nadal’s rivals desperately want to beat him. It is a tournament that Djokovic has never won, and a tournament that Nadal has won eight times since 2005.
Following his superb start to 2014, and with his victory last year fresh on his mind, Djokovic will be more determined than ever to win the only Grand Slam that has eluded him so far. The preparation for that assault on the French starts in Monaco, and if the two champions meet, prepare for sparks to fly.
Elsewhere in the men’s draw, after originally not slated to play in Monte Carlo, Roger Federer has been given a wild card. The Swiss number two has not played in Monaco since 2011, and it is thought that this change of heart may perhaps be down to the birth of his next child which may happen during one of the next clay events in Madrid or Rome. There are only three Masters events that Federer has failed to win, and Monte Carlo is one of them, giving the former world number one an added incentive to compete this time around.
Unlike Federer, Andy Murray will not present in Monte Carlo, but Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka, Spaniard David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are all scheduled to play.
The event in Monte Carlo promises to be full of excitement and intrigue, and with Nadal at risk of losing his clay crown to Djokovic, there is an intriguing subplot to enjoy too. If Djokovic is able to regain his title this time around, it could well prove significant in his quest to clinch the only Grand Slam he has failed to win, and in the form that he’s in, any clash with Nadal is likely to be one of the epics of the modern game.
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