Monaco. Novak Djokovic’s bid to become French Open champion starts at the Monte Carlo Masters, where he will try to end Rafael Nadal’s long dominance and show the Spaniard that he has nowhere left to hide — not even on clay.
Nadal has won at Monte Carlo every year since 2005 and gone on to win the French Open every year except 2009.
But the six-time French Open champion has lost in seven straight finals to Djokovic, including the last three Grand Slam finals. Djokovic also handed Nadal his only two losses on clay last year, in the Madrid and Rome Masters.
Victory in Monte Carlo would be even sweeter for Djokovic, given that Nadal has won 37 consecutive matches there and holds a 39-1 record.
“He’s the King of Clay, the best player ever to play on this surface, and one of the best tennis players ever,” Djokovic said on Sunday. “Winning in back-to-back finals against Rafa gives me a lot of confidence coming into the season now.”
The second-ranked Nadal is without a title since winning last year’s French Open. He was also without a title in 2011 heading into Monte Carlo, then went on to win here and the French Open.
Unlike the oppressive atmosphere of jam-packed Roland Garros in bustling western Paris, the Monte Carlo Country Club’s peaceful clay courts overlooking the glittering Mediterranean sea are like a second home for Nadal.
It’s where it all started for him as a 16-year-old, when an astonishing victory over former French Open champion Albert Costa propelled him into the spotlight. Nine years later, he is the star everyone wants to beat.
“Nadal probably plays his best tennis in Monte Carlo, outside of Paris,” Djokovic said.
Not even 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who is not playing here this year, could topple him here, losing to Nadal in the final from 2006-08.
But the top-ranked Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in the 2009 Monte Carlo final, is ready to end the Spaniard’s run and to continue his crushing recent dominance over the 10-time Grand Slam champion.
Overall, Nadal leads their series 16-14 but has not beaten Djokovic since a group-stage match at the 2010 ATP Finals in London.
With six weeks to go until the French Open, the 24-year-old Serb knows he can strike a huge blow to Nadal’s confidence and keep his relentless momentum going by winning at Monte Carlo.
Djokovic opens his campaign in the second round against either Andreas Seppi or a qualifier, while Nadal faces Radek Stepanek or Jarkko Nieminen.
In first-round play on Sunday, ninth-seeded Gilles Simon of France beat Benjamin Balleret of Monaco 6-3, 6-2, while Croatia’s Ivan Ljubicic bid tennis farewell with a 6-0, 6-3 loss to countryman Ivan Dodig.