Monte Carlo Masters: Rafael Nadal has a tough path to title defence
It's finally time for sliding and gliding for the red clay season is here. The picturesque Monte Carlo Masters, overlooking the azure blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, is the first of the three ATP Masters 1000 events to be played on the most gruelling and merciless surface that tests the stamina of every player.
The advent of the terre battue season also makes Rafael Nadal the principal figure in every tennis discussion. The Spanish southpaw, who is the defending champion, is aiming for a Triple 'La Decima' having won each of the Monte Carlo Masters, the ATP Barcelona and the French Open nine times.
Could he hunt down his first 10th crown at Monaco, which is scheduled this week? Let’s have a look at the draw:
Nadal, Djokovic, Alexander Zverev in same half
It won’t be a cakewalk for even for someone of Rafa’s stature and accomplishments on clay as the path to the title is riddled with dangers. Seeded fourth, he begins his campaign against the winner of the all-British clash between Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund. While that is expected to give him a hassle-free time, he needs to be ready for his third round for there is a possibility of him facing the super-talented 14th seed Alexander Zverev.
The World No. 7 does have a 2-0 head-to-head record over the 20th ranked German teenager but those two wins have been anything but smooth for the King of Clay. At Indian Wells last year, Nadal saved a match point for the win while this year, he was stretched to five sets in the third round of the Australian Open. Suffice to say, Rafa needs to be at his immaculate best for the challenge.
Grigor Dimitrov is in Rafa’s road up next in the quarter-finals. Interestingly, the Bulgarian started the year with two titles and was close to upsetting Nadal in the season’s opening Major. However, since winning his second title of the year in February, he has somewhat struggled and even suffered two consecutive opening round defeats in his last two tournaments.
The semi-finals present an uphill battle for the defending champion as the second seed and two-time champion Novak Djokovic looms large. Even though the Serb’s resume has only the Qatar Open title in 2017 so far, Djokovic will be desperately looking for a turnaround in his fortunes with the defence of his French Open crown coming up.
The 12-time Major winner will have to overcome the sixth seed Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals and the Austrian is the only possible roadblock for Djokovic before he sets up that blockbuster last-four meeting with Nadal.
Wawrinka looms large for Murray
The winner of this much-awaited semi-final will be crossing swords with the top seed and World No. 1 Andy Murray. The Briton was stopped by none other than Rafa at the Monte Carlo semi-finals last year but he did exact his revenge pretty soon in the Madrid Masters semi-finals.
This time though, Murray has to surmount quite a few barriers if he wants to have any chance of a rematch with Nadal. The 2017 Marrakech champion Borna Coric and the Marrakech runner-up Philipp Kohlschreiber are both in his half of the draw and so is the third seed and former champion Stan Wawrinka. On clay, the Swiss leads the Briton 3-1 and that is not exactly a showdown Murray will be relishing especially after just recovering from an elbow injury.