Following a gripping three months of hard court tennis, the clay court season kicks off, right here in Monte Carlo, as the first Masters 1000 starts on Saturday 15th April.
As tennis legend, Roger Federer, rounded off his sensational first quarter of 2017 with the Miami Open title, the Swiss genius made an interesting pronouncement. Addressing the conquered Rafael Nadal in Florida, Federer stated:
“The clay courts are around, so I’m sure you are going to tear it into pieces over there.”
It’s easy to see why Federer thinks Nadal will once again dominate the clay court season. Federer, who has been back to his best player this year, will miss a bulk of the European clay action, while the world’s top two players, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, who controlled this period of the season last year, have serious question marks around their forms and fitness. The coast appears clear for Nadal to go on and clean up the major titles on clay like he used to do in his prime.
And his first stop will be right here in Monte Carlo.
For all of Nadal’s troubles in 2016, he won the Monte Carlo title. Make no mistake, it was a very strong field that assembled in the principality- including Djokovic, Murray and Federer. Nadal didn’t have to play Djokovic, crucially, as the Serbian suffered a shock early loss to Jiri Vesely, but he did beat Wawrinka and Murray in consecutive rounds before defeating Gael Monfils in the final, thus ending a four-year title drought.
Nadal had won an unprecedented eight straight titles in Monte Carlo between 2005 and 2012, but the King of Clay began to lose his grip on the surface, falling to Djokovic in the 2013 final, losing to David Ferrer in the quarter finals in 2014, and beaten comprehensively by Djokovic in the semis in 2015.
However, his Monte Carlo success, and a subsequent victory in Barcelona sparked rumours of a resurgence but his clay court season would ultimately end in disappointment, as he pulled out after the second round at Roland Garros. Nadal’s year then ended bitterly in October, when the great Spaniard had to pull out due to a nasty wrist injury. The obituary signs were out again as it appeared difficult to see Nadal ever getting back to his dominant best, especially since turning 30.
Nevertheless, Nadal’s ability to bounce back is the stuff of legend, and this year Nadal has contested three finals in 2017- the Australian Open, Acapulco, and Miami. The only reason he hasn’t won them has been the brilliance of Roger Federer, and a fine Sam Querrey performance in Acapulco.
With Djokovic and Murray struggling for form and no Federer to worry about, the man to beat in 2017 is once again Rafael Nadal and we can’t wait to see the legend hit the famous clay courts of Monte-Carlo this weekend.