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Nadal and Djokovic resume rivalry in Monte-Carlo
One of the great sporting rivalries resumes next week as Novak Djokovic continues to hunt down Rafa Nadal and the world number 1 ranking, on the edge of the Mediterranean at the Monte-Carlo Roles Masters.
Over the next six weeks leading up to the second Grand Slam of the year, the French Open, the Serbian world number 2 will look to achieve the unthinkable when he not only attempts to dethrone Nadal at the top of the Emirates ATP rankings but to achieve it on a surface that the Spaniard is practically unbeatable on.
To put into context what Djokovic is attempting to achieve during the European clay court season, Nadal has won 43 of his 62 ATP titles on the red dirt which includes an incredible eight French Open titles and 18 of his 26 Masters titles.
The Spaniard has only ever lost five Masters Series clay court finals he has been involved in, twice to Roger Federer – Hamburg 2007 and Madrid 2009 – and more poignantly three times to the chasing Djokovic – Madrid and Rome in 2011 and last year in Monte Carlo when the Serbian ended Nadal’s supreme eight-year reign in the Principality.
To stack the odds even more heavily against Djokovic, leading up to the French Open their are 1000 ranking points available for the winner of each of the three Masters Series events to be played in Monte-Carlo, Rome and Madrid, tournaments that Nadal has been victorious in on no less than 18 occasions since 2005, of which he will be the defending champion in both Rome and Madrid.
On that evidence alone one might think that to make up the 1920 ranking points will be an impossible task for Djokovic especially if you include the French Open, however if one digs deeper into the Serbian’s recent clay court form, it does provide a glimpse of reality into the feat if he can achieve it.
He has already proved that the Spaniard can be beaten on clay after doing so in Madrid, Rome and Monte Carlo however he has also proved that he has given himself every opportunity of beating Nadal by advancing into a further two finals in both Monte-Carlo and Rome as well as the 2012 French Open final, on all five occasions losing to Nadal.
The margin between winning and losing is sometimes fractional, meaning a swing in a point and a bit of luck here and there could fall into the lap of Djokovic resulting in that rare win or two against the, “King of Clay.”
It will without question be an intriguing eight weeks of clay court action beginning in the Principality on Monday.
The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters is steeped in history with the first event being played in 1897 and other than the name of the defending champion Djokovic and the eight occasions Nadal’s name is etched on the trophy, greats like Tomas Muster, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander and Bjorn Borg have all lifted the coveted title.
Djokovic started 2014 slowly until he hit form on the US hard courts with back to back titles at Indian Wells and Miami, a feat he achieved last in 2011, when he also went on to win in Rome and Madrid, on all four occasions beating Nadal in the final.
Nadal on the other hand began the year where he left off with titles in Rio de Janeiro and Doha and he was also denied a fair crack at Stan Wawrinka in the final of the Australian Open due to injury. However, the Spaniard will be very aware that the shift in momentum has gone in favour of his rival, something that he might feel will be halted by the red dirt.
It must be mentioned that a resurgent Federer could also play a part in this titanic battle as the Swiss great continues to defy his critics with a return to form.
Federer has moved back up to fourth in the rankings after reaching the final in Brisbane and Indian Wells, the semi-final at the Australian Open and titled for a sixth time at the Dubai Duty Free which included a semifinal win over Djokovic.
He has been a losing finalist on three occasions in Monte-Carlo, twice in Rome – which includes last year’s loss to Nadal – and has titled three times in Madrid. He is a winner of the French Open in 2009 and is also a beaten finalist on four occasions at Roland Garros, underlining his ability to play on the slower surface.
While all the talk and attention will remain very much on Djokovic and Nadal, keep an eye on Federer and the possibility of the 17-time Grand Slam Champion gatecrashing the party.