The clay court season is often accompanied by various emotions from the stars of the ATP, ranging from displeasure to indifference to welcome relief. To put it bluntly, some players prefer the red dirt to any other surface. Perhaps their style of play is more suited for clay, or they have an increased likelihood of capturing that elusive trophy. Regardless of reason, most will say that the European clay court season brings a unique and exciting style of tennis; one that forces even the best to modify their routine in order to succeed.
Unless your name is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has been in scintillating form on clay, winning 49 titles; equaling the record held by tennis legend Guillermo Vilas. Nadal will be looking to surpass the Argentine at Monte-Carlo, and also end his title drought. He has not won a singles title since the Barcelona Open last year, where he defeated Kei Nishikori 6-4 7-5 in the final.
The 2017 season has been fairly consistent for Nadal, as he began by playing in the exhibition tournament at Abu Dhabi. He won that title, defeating the likes of Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and David Goffin in the process. His first competitive tournament was at the Brisbane International in Australia, where he made it to the quarterfinals before losing to top seed Milos Raonic.
Next up was the Australian Open, and Nadal surpassed expectations by displaying the heart and tenacity that has endeared him to millions worldwide. He made it to the final, where he faced long-time foe Roger Federer. Nadal lost in a five set epic, 4–6 6–3 1–6 6–3 3–6 but put to rest the rumors that his best days were behind him.
Nadal pulled out of the upcoming Rotterdam Open, citing fatigue. He seemed to be in optimal condition for the Mexico Open in Acapulco, where he reached the final without dropping a set. He however lost to hard hitting American Sam Querrey, who played some inspired tennis and was able to overcome Nadal 6-3 7-6(3).
The ATP Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami; commonly referred to as the Sunshine Double, were up next. Nadal was again on a collision course with Federer, this time with both scheduled to meet in the fourth round. Both men had taken time off in the second half of the 2016 season and thus were ranked lower than expected. Nadal swept through his early round matches in Indian Wells, but fell to Federer in straight sets 2-6 3-6. The Miami Open saw him progress relatively unscathed to the final, where he once again faced Federer and lost to him 3-6 4-6. This was in fact his fourth consecutive loss to the Swiss, and his fifth final loss in Miami.
Nadal now looks to the clay courts of Monte-Carlo to not only end his title drought; but also win an unprecedented tenth Monte-Carlo Masters title. He last prevailed in 2016, where he defeated an in-form Gael Monfils 7-5 5-7 6-0 in the final. He also had to overcome Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray en route; both of whom have entered this year’s tournament. Nonetheless, Nadal is still the favorite to capture the title, as Federer is taking time off to spend with family and prepare for the French Open. There are a handful of other players who could pose a threat to the Spaniard, but he was born to dominate on clay and will most likely be present on championship Sunday.
Join us over the next few days as we examine other potential finalists and favorites, ranging from established veterans to the Next Gen stars; leading up to the onset of the ATP Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 tournament.
Be sure to follow us on www.tennis-pulse.com for live play-by-play coverage and recaps during the Monte-Carlo Masters tournament.