Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Who Can Stop Rafa Nadal and La Decima Part 1?


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Rafa Nadal enters the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters on the back of a strong first quarter of the season as he attempts his first La Decima of 2017. The Tennis Review looks at why Nadal is the man to be stopped and at the rivals who have a chance to stall his striding towards a piece of tennis history.

Why Nadal is the player who needs to be stopped.

Had Roger Federer not been fairy-tailing it up this season, then the award for best comeback would most likely be going Nadal’s way.

In 2017, Nadal has been to a slam final, an ATP 1000 final, and an ATP 500 final, and all on hard courts. Three of his five losses have come at the hands of arguably the best hard courter in tennis history, Roger Federer, another one to Milos Raonic, in Brisbane where the Canadian was defending champion and at a career high ranking of 3, and the other one to a player with the big serve and first strike tennis that bothers Nadal on faster surfaces, Sam Querrey.

That run on hard courts means Nadal, who only came back from wrist injury last Summer, has the confidence he needs entering the Clay court swing, where last year he got off to a tremendous start winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona back to back,

Nadal, who has been practicing on clay since his Miami defeat, looks primed to put all that hard work into trophy winning action, and there is no better venue to start at than Monte Carlo where he has won a historic nine titles (Nadal has the record for most men’s singles titles won at an event at no less than three different tournaments- Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros) and where he could become the first man in ATP history to win ten singles titles at one tournament.

Who Can Stop Nadal?

Round 2
Kyle Edmund or Dan Evans (Nadal has never played either of them).

Edmund’s best surface is clay and the Brit has enough experience now to hang with the game’s best across all surfaces and it may not be long before the 22 year old ranked 47 starts beating them, whereas fellow Brit Dan Evans, aged 26 and ranked 44, is a better hard court player, but has the self belief and flair to beat the big guys with wins vs Nishikori, Thiem and Cilic on his resume.

If the two Brits could form a hybrid then they might stand a chance, but on their own, the chances of either stopping Nadal are slim.

Round 3
Sascha Zverev (Nadal leads h2h 2-0)

The draw could have been kinder to Nadal. Zverev likes clay courts and big matches and has pushed Nadal close on two previous occasions, holding match points against him in Indian Wells last year and taking him to five sets at this season’s Australian Open.

Zverev’s backhand is a big enough weapon to stand up to Nadal’s forehand in cross-court rallies and if Nadal is hitting at all short on that side, Zverev will be able to come in and really attack him.

Zverev, though, is still a little green to finish Nadal off, but a breakthrough is going to come his way at some point, the question is could it be this week on the red dirt in Monte Carlo?

Quarter Final
Grigor Dimitrov (8) (Nadal leads 8-1).

Nadal and Dimitrov have met at this stage of the tournament before, going three sets in ’13. Right now, after a great start to 2017, Dimitrov has lapsed a little, and will have to be playing well to get past his section of the draw with a potential second round clash with Casper Ruud and a possible third rounder with one of the dangerous quartet of Bernard Tomic, Diego Schwartzman, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Roberto Bautista Agut, none of whom will turn down a shot at upsetting Dimitrov.

If Dimitrov does make his scheduled last eight Nadal date, facing Nadal at an historic event like Monte Carlo might inspire the Bulgarian to pose the kind of challenge he did to Nadal in the Australian Open semis earlier this season, arguably the match of the year so far.

Roberto Bautista Agut (12) (Nadal leads 1-0).

Bautista Agut could be a more likely opponent from the Dimitrov section of the draw, but while Nadal’s fellow Spaniard has plenty of game, his flatter shots are more suited to hard courts, and he lacks the clay court guile needed to beat Nadal on the surface.

Semi- final

Novak Djokovic (2) (Djokovic leads 26-23)

If Roland Garros is the end of first semester final for 2017, then this is the mid term test for Nadal.

Djokovic has had Nadal’s number since losing to him in the 2014 Roland Garros final, but since the Serbian’s recent struggles post his Roland Garros ’16 win, the two have not met, and while Djokovic’s struggles worsen, Nadal has been getting stronger.

Right now, in a rivalry that has switched hands from one to the other numerous times over the last decade, this could be Nadal’s chance to grab the momentum at an all important moment, with Nadal primed to reassert himself back at the top of the game, in what would be their 50th meeting.

Dominic Thiem (6) (Nadal leads 2-1).

Djokovic will have to get that far, though, and in four tournament starts in 2017, he has been past the quarters once.

Thiem may be the one to take advantage of Djokovic’s struggles, if the second seed has not overcome them, and would also prove a strong test for Nadal should they meet in the semis. The Austrian loves clay, has beaten Nadal on it before, in Buenos Aires last season, and, according to his coach Gunter Bresnik, is playing better than ever. The Austrian is still a little unproven though at ATP 1000 level, having yet to make it past the last eight in four tries, however he looks ready to take the next step and Nadal will need to apply plenty of pressure to prevent himself getting trodden on in that process.

David Goffin (10) (Never met).

Goffin, though, may be the scene stealer from the bottom half. The Belgian has the clay court skills to beat Thiem in the last 16, Djokovic, if he is sub-par, in the last 8, and challenge Nadal in the semis. Goffin winning versus Nadal would be a long stretch- he has never made an ATP 1000 final- and he does have a history of choking leads versus top players.

Inexperience, problems closing out matches, Goffin’s weaknesses are, unfortunately for the Belgian, ones Nadal is as adept at exploiting as he is winning matches on clay.

Stan Wawrinka (3) (Nadal leads 15-3).

Former champion Stan Wawrinka (defeated Federer in ’14) is due a big title on arguably his best surface, has a nice Monte Carlo draw from the tennis Gods keen to see him do well, and is in the lighter top half with Andy Murray struggling on his serve, Marin Cilic in poor form, and seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who had a great early season but has been missing in action since becoming a father, a rival against whom he matches up well.

Wawrinka is a dangerous player in finals, and not one Nadal would choose to face from the top half of the Monte Carlo draw after losing all three finals he has played this year. Any hint of insecurity or vulnerability from Nadal and Wawrinka has the self-belief and weight of shot to send him stumbling across the red dirt rather than sliding through it.

If Nadal does makes it to the Monte Carlo final, though, and does so beating Djokovic on the way, he would be in pretty good physical, mental and technical form, and while the nine time Champion would face a rival who has proven he can beat him in big matches, on clay, Nadal has, if his forehand is working well and he can get his heavy top spin going, the upper hand in the match up.

Rafa Nadal

Nadal’s biggest opponent might prove to be none other than Nadal himself. The Spaniard has not won a title since Barcelona last season, has had to come back from yet another injury, and has not won his last three finals, including one in which he led by a break in the fifth set.

If Nadal’s 0-3 finals record or worries about his physical condition creep in, and his forehand falls short and his serve is vulnerable, his opponent will be able to exploit that, and another final loss, on clay, in Monte Carlo where Nadal has so many great memories, could seriously put a dent in Nadal’s chances of La Decima part 3 (the second is Barcelona) at Roland Garros.

But those kind of scenario’s are best left to be played out in Nadal’s nightmares. Nadal this season is all about living his dreams, and living in the now. The Spaniard was very positive after his Miami loss to Federer which he felt played out closer than the score-line, and very pragmatic about taking this season and his clay court chances step by step. So far, that approach has served him well, and Nadal, in his current upbeat, relaxed mood and mode, is unlikely to end up beating himself in a Monte Carlo final. Nadal will leave that responsibility, instead, to his rivals. Rivals who will have a much harder time staying in the now, and with Nadal, with all the nightmares the Spaniard will inflict on them, on one of his favorite courts.

A court on which Nadal has lived out plenty of dreams, a court on which whoever does beat the Spaniard will have to do so with a killer performance if they are going to stop Nadal becoming the first man to live a dream yet to be lived, the dream that is La Decima part One.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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