After all the hardcourt action over the past three months, it's time to switch to one of the most entertaining surfaces on tour - clay. Tennis fans are all set to witness some grueling, hard-fought tennis on the red dirt, with almost all the top players participating.
Roger Federer has announced that he will return to clay this year. He is not going to play this month, but will be participating in the Madrid Open which is going to take place from 6th of May.
The claycourt Masters are going start with the Monte Carlo Masters in Nice, France, which commences on 13th April. The draw is yet to be released but every tennis viewer knows who is the favorite to win the tournament.
Any claycourt tournament would be at a loss if it didn't have Rafael Nadal as one of its participants, and Monte Carlo is no exception. The Spanish Bull has won the tournament an astonishing 11 times, which is also the same number of times he has won the French Open.
Clearly, Monte Carlo is the most suitable tournament for Nadal to begin his claycourt season. He had withdrawn from the Miami Masters citing a knee injury, but now seems ready to conquer the clay yet again.
Out of the 12 finals Nadal has played here, he has won 11. The only loss came to none other than Novak Djokovic, who defeated Nadal 6-2, 7-6 in the 2013 final.
Considering the stats, there doesn't seem to be anyone who can stop Nadal from winning the tournament even this time. But how confident is Nadal? His knee injury could be a factor, and he has also been given a tough time in some recent matches by younger players, so there could be a possibility of an upset this year.
So even if there's an outside chance for anyone to stop Nadal from winning the title a staggering 12th time, who could that be? Let's have a look at the players who have the potential to cause an upset:
The first player that comes to the mind is Djokovic. But the Serb didn't seem to be in a happy place mentally at Miami, as he himself admitted after his fourth round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut.
From the younger players, one player to keep an eye out for is Dominic Thiem, who has a splendid record on clay. Thiem faced Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 2018 and lost 0-6, 2-6 to the Spaniard, but he did defeat him at the Madrid Masters a few weeks later.
Another player who could possibly come close to beating Nadal is the Russian Karen Khachanov, who gave quite a tussle to Rafa at this year's Indian Wells and last year's US Open. Khachanov played against Nadal in the fourth round of Monte Carlo last year and lost 3-6, 2-6.
Clearly, no one seems to be at par with Nadal when it comes to clay, especially at the Monte Carlo Masters. Other players like Alexander Zverev, Fabio Fognini and Stan Wawrinka have the ability to give a fight, but it will be an uphill task for them to keep holding off the Spaniard's vicious forehand.
Even though Nadal is not in the best of rhythm right now, he remains the player to beat at the year's first claycourt Masters. It remains to be seen if Djokovic, Thiem or Khachanov can pull off a miracle and upset Nadal at his favorite hunting ground.Published 11 Apr 2019, 21:03 IST