x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

French Open battle gets a preview at Monte Carlo Masters

It is not quite mission impossible, but the first shots in the battle to dethrone Rafael Nadal as French Open champion are about to be fired in the upmarket surrounds of the Monte Carlo Country Club.

Rafael Nadal works hard during practice for the ATP Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on April 14, 2014 in Monaco. Julian Finney / Getty Images
Rafael Nadal works hard during practice for the ATP Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on April 14, 2014 in Monaco. Julian Finney / Getty Images

It is not quite mission impossible, but the first shots in the battle to dethrone Rafael Nadal as French Open champion are about to be fired in the upmarket surrounds of the Monte Carlo Country Club.

These skirmishes follow a similar pattern each year.

Nadal usually wins at least three clay-court tour events in the European spring, surviving the occasional scare, on his way to another familiar Sunday afternoon of crowning glory on the crushed red-brick surface of Roland Garros.

Figures released by the ATP last week illustrate the Spaniard’s dominance on clay, a surface that has yielded 43 of his 62 career titles, including a record eight French Open titles. At Roland Garros, the Spaniard has won 59 out of 60 matches, the only blotch being his injury-hit 2009 fourth-round exit to Robin Soderling.

According to the ATP, the eight-time French Open champion has a 93.4 winning percentage and 298-21 match record on clay.

Novak Djokovic, who dethroned Nadal as an eight-time defending champion at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2013, is only eighth among all-time leaders with a 77.4 per cent success rate on clay, followed by Roger Federer (76.6), David Ferrer (71.8) and Tommy Robredo (69.3).

Guillermo Vilas’s record of 46 clay titles is in Nadal’s sights, but the Spaniard is taking nothing for granted.

“I need to be 100 per cent to make a little bit of difference, to try to be aggressive, to try to move myself very well on clay and to try to find the best feeling possible as soon as possible,” he said.

His caution is based on the threat of Djokovic, who took his Monte Carlo title 12 months ago before going agonisingly close to also beating Nadal at the French Open, where he let slip a 4-2 lead in the deciding set of an epic semi-final.

Djokovic goes into the defence of his Monte Carlo title buoyed by his back-to-back Masters victories in the US but conflicted over his coaching arrangements.

His titles at Indian Wells and Miami were overseen by long-time coach Marian Vajda, while recent coaching addition Boris Becker had hip surgery.

Many will wonder, too, how Becker can help, on clay, given that of the German’s 49 titles as a player, zero came on clay.

Federer returns to Monte Carlo for the first time since 2011.

The Swiss, with just one clay title in the past four years, will have Stefan Edberg in his coaching corner for the first time at a European event and sounds optimistic.

“The clay is something I have always enjoyed throughout my career,” Federer said. “It’s where I grew up playing on. It’s where I played most of my tennis in my career.”

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