Nadal needs to watch his back

With the Monte Carlo Masters coming up I can feel the excitement brewing in the tennis world. Monte Carlo is a fantastic event, and is certainly one I have on my bucket list to go to. Nadal is perhaps the most famous player of the event, having won it eight times between 2005 and 2012. He lost it last year though to Novak Djokovic. It just so happens that right now, happens to be a time when the rivalry between the two players is heating up. Perhaps it is fortuitous that Monte Carlo is on the near horizon. It is the Nadal/Djoko rivalry and the state of play for the coming clay and grass seasons that I will be discussing in this article.

22-18 is the official tally for Nadal v. Djokovic. It just so happens to be in Nadals favour, thanks in a large degree to his dominance of their early clashes. Everyone will remember that between 2011 and 2012, Djokovic won seven consecutive clashes. It all culminated in the 2012 Australian Open final, which Steve Flink rated as the sixth greatest match of all time in his book, ‘The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time’. When Djokovic was looking to emulate Laver in the 2012 French final, Nadal finally broke the streak and broke Djoko’s hopes, as he did to Federer twice at the French.

Djokovic has won his last three clashes against Nadal, beating him 6-3, 6-3 in the final in Miami. Djokovic will be defending his winner ATP points in Monte Carlo, so Nadal can do his hopes of holding onto that No. 1 spot a world of good by winning the tournament. If he doesn’t he will find it very hard to hold on through May and June, thanks or no thanks to his brilliant clay season last year. Djokovic is on 11,680 points in the rankings now, whereas Nadal leads with 13,730. Nadal needs to only reach the final if he is to prevent himself losing points. Djokovic will slip back if he can’t defend the title.

Of course, Monte Carlo is only a lead up tournament to the French Open though, where Nadal is the defending champion. One has to think that Nadal is bound to see a repeat of 2009 (when he lost to Robin Soderling in the fourth round) one day, and this very likely could be the year. Will it be Djokovic whom will be the one to dethrone him? We will have to wait and see. But he got very close in the semi-final last year, and is an all-court player, whose baseline game is suited to clay. It isn’t as if he is a serve and volley player like Pete Sampras, in which case (if he was) I wouldn’t even bother having this discussion.

Prior to the French Nadal will have a heap of points to defend, as he won four other clay tournaments. It has to be remembered as well that Djokovic is not the only threat. There is a resurgent Stanislas Wawrinka, who has just come off his Australian Open win. Federer is as always a threat on clay, as any other surface. Ferrer will fight to the end. And that is not to mention the talents of Delpo, Berdych, and Tsonga.

Nadal’s only saving grace for his number one ranking could be (ironically) the grass-season after the French. He played no lead-up tournaments prior to Wimbledon, and then proceeded to lose in the first-round there. So no ranking points to defend and all the points to gain.

But till then, Nadal will have to replicate his brilliant 2013 clay season. He has done it before time and time again, and I for one wouldn’t be one to bet against him. But I certainly wouldn’t bet the house on him to do so either.

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