Rafael Nadal has won seven straight titles at the Monte Carlo Masters. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Rafael Nadal aims for his eighth straight Monte Carlo title, while the Fed Cup features some intriguing ties.
Cliche alert: What happens when immovable object meets unstoppable force? Rafael Nadal hasn’t lost in Monte Carlo since 2003 (his first year playing the event) and he’s going for a jaw-dropping eighth straight title there. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, the man who owned him in 2011 and beat him twice on clay last year, has decided to crash the party and kick off his French Open tune-up campaign in Rafa’s sandbox. How dominant has Nadal been in Monte Carlo? In the last five years he’s lost only two sets. To say he’s comfortable in Monte Carlo is an understatement.
So what do we make of his chances this year? Nadal withdrew from the semifinals of Miami because of tendinitis in his left knee, and though he’s still in the No. 2 spot, he hasn’t won a title since Roland Garros. But Rafa’s always been able to get his feet back under him in Monte Carlo. Needless to say, a clash between the top two seeds in the final would clearly set the tone for the rest of the clay season.
Of course, both guys need to get to the final, which is no guarantee. Djokovic has the tougher half of the draw, with last year’s finalist, David Ferrer, in his quarter (see the complete draw here). A freshly shorn Andy Murray, who is one of two men in the draw who has taken a set off Nadal in Monte Carlo, has also been drawn into Djokovic’s half. But Murray, who defeated Djokovic earlier this year in Dubai, has never beaten the Serb on clay, and he has a tricky path to the semis himself.
Murray has Victor Troicki in the second round, and could face Jurgen Melzer and Tomas Berdych along the way. All winnable matches for Murray, and yet, would it surprise anyone if he lost one? For the first time in his career, Murray comes into the clay season with a good amount of pressure to back up his strong 2011 results (semifinalist in Monte Carlo, Rome and Roland Garros).
Nadal, on the other hand, shouldn’t face much resistance until the quarterfinals, where he could face fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro (who has never beaten Nadal in seven attempts). From there, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is the only potential semifinalist who could give Rafa problems, but the fact is we don’t call him the Clay G.O.A.T. for nothing. I suspect he’ll make it through to the finals with nary a peep (assuming he’s healthy, of course).