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What started in 2011 Miami Masters, followed up by the culmination of Novak Djokovic – as an innovative force at work and now after more than a year – we are here at the crossroads experiencing barely a ripple of change. Nadal was tested, knocked out and pushed to the periphery to look vulnerable by Novak Djokovic throughout the last season. Amidst present state of affairs, Monte Carlo Masters becomes more so important, as it would set the tone for the gruelling clay-court season ahead. Nadal fought back and also looked in a better position during the epic Aussie Open final earlier this year, but once again he failed to solve the Djokovic riddle. There are other notable contenders in contention and we cannot rule out their presence, but it is very easy to deduce that the competition finally narrows down between – Nadal and Djokovic. Spare some thoughts for the Swiss legend Roger Federer, who would be eying to spoil the party of these two top contenders – then we will have different equations and probabilities because Federer knows how to get the better off these two – on any given day!
The growing rivalry between Nadal and Djokovic certainly qualifies to become the part of those legendary folklores, which expounds the spirit of all those defining moments, sometimes manifesting as a prophecy – what lies in the future? Let’s scrutinize a few details to find some important answers to a few probing questions on the onset of the 2012 Monte Carlo Masters:
1. All eyes on Nadal: Since 2004, Nadal has brought his own brand of red clay tennis, which is based on the use of raw power and old school patience. Nadal likes to burn out his opponents in long rallies and pace his attack by complimenting it with exquisite court-coverage that allows him to hit the winners – with so much authority on both sides of the court. For the last seven years, Nadal and Monte Carlo Masters have become synonymous with each other. The Spaniard is the only player in the history of this tournament, who has won this Masters Event seven times in a row. Evidently, Djokovic has done a lot of mental damage to Nadal by beating him in seven consecutive finals, but we should not forget that Rafael Nadal has only lost one best-of-five clay-court duel in his entire career. Well, many people would agree that Rafa’s knee injury played a crucial role in that defeat. The Spaniard has a stellar 17-3 win-loss record this season but he has not won a title yet. But, as he has done over the years, Nadal will be eying a great success at clay-court season that usually helps him to carry on the momentum to Wimbledon and US Open.
2. Mission Monte-Carlo for Nole: It’s time to shine at home for Monte-Carlo resident Novak Djokovic, who missed out this tournament last season to recover from an injury and that allowed Nadal to win this tournament without much trouble, followed up by Barcelona Open victory – on both occasions Nadal met his compatriot David Ferrer in the title matches. Though, Nadal is a seven times reigning champion here, Novak Djokovic emerges as the most favourite contender to hold the trophy this time. Djokovic trails Rafa 2-9 on clay, but he has won the last four sets on red-soil and seven matches in a row against the defending champion. Djokovic topped Nadal in straight sets last season to clinch the titles in Madrid and Rome and it jolted Rafa to the core. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Djokovic did look absolutely unstoppable against Nadal in the last season because the Serbian made a few significant changes in his game – especially against the Spaniard. Djokovic neutralized Rafa’s favourite shots, the cross-court forehand with his double-handed backhand and duly matched up with Rafa’s stamina, but, one thing that made a huge difference was mental toughness, as Djokovic never allowed Nadal to run away with the momentum. Both are too good, when it comes to playing those excruciating rallies. Djokovic failed to maintain his devastating form post Aussie Open like he did in the last season, but he looked in his typical touch during his Miami Masters title defence campaign. So, Nadal has a lot to think about.
3. The Wizard and top Scot: When all other contenders failed to stop the surge of Novak Djokovic last season, it was Roger Federer, who snapped his winning streak of 42 matches and once again proved – that form is temporary but class is permanent. The sixteen Grand Slam titles winner Roger Federer has certainly passed his prime, but his devout work ethics and passion for tennis – has allowed him to stay there in the mix of things. Federer never looks as a mere pushover and that’s incredible for someone, who ruled the tennis world for more than four years. Federer has a tremendous 23-3 win-loss record this season and he has already won three titles – including Indian Wells Masters. There is a difference of 900 points between Federer and Nadal – and a title win here can take the Swiss to No. 2 position in the ATP Rankings – this will further escalate the pressure on the Spaniard. Then, there is World No. 4 Andy Murray, who will once again carry the load of ever-swelling British expectations. The Scot has been pretty consistent this season with a 17-4 win-loss record. Last season, Murray surprised many by playing fantastically on his least-favourite surface clay. So, this time he can go one step ahead to counter the might of Nadal-Djokovic.
It would be unfair not to mention the names of World No. 5 David Ferrer, Juan Martin Del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga as one of the top contenders. They can cause upsets, but it would need a herculean effort from all of them to win a title here in this picturesque Island city.
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