It is heartening to see Novak Djokovic feeling that he has recovered sufficiently from his ankle problems to play in the Monte Carlo Masters, but this tournament is all about Rafael Nadal. That is no criticism of Djokovic's abilities on the red stuff, but tournaments on clay are all about Rafa, who is fresh and ready to begin his latest assault on his favourite surface.
Nadal is bidding for a ninth straight title in Monte Carlo. That is an incredible run. It is a glorious setting for a tournament, but Nadal has turned it into his personal training ground.
I'm slightly surprised to see Djokovic playing in this tournament, but he must be feeling fit enough to give it a go. Novak places so much strain on his ankles when he is playing. He almost slides along the ground on hard courts like he is playing on clay. He manages to retrieve the ball from some astonishing places.
That can't be good for the ankles. It is a similar problem Rafa has with his knees. Strain must take its toll. I think it just a case of Novak managing the situation as the season progresses.
You don't really get easy matches on clay, but his half of draw is easier as there is no Rafa or Andy Murray in it. He could face Juan Martin Del Potro or Tomas Berdych on his way to the final, but Berdych in particular never looks like being a true force on clay.
His possible semi-final opponent may provide more trouble as France's Richard Gasquet looks like he could have a big tournament. He has a career-best ranking of nine now and is finally managing to come up with some consistency. With home support behind him, Gasquet could make the final.
Nadal is surely a stick-on to win the French Open, but this is where his clay season starts. There have been one or two conservative things I've read from Rafa over the past few days.
He seems to be getting a bit tired of talking about the knee. And you do wonder how the knee is holding up after Indian Wells.
But if that is strong enough, you can't really see Rafa losing.
He is surely destined to win this tournament, and he is a huge favourite for the French Open even if he is playing at 70-75 per cent. He was too good for Djokovic last year on the surface when he wasn't at his best.
Elsewhere, I'm very excited after Grigor Dmitrov overcoming Janko Tipsarevic. I hope it is a significant win as we've all waited a long time for Dmitrov to come through. Outside the top 10, he is my favourite player.
Murray also has a decent draw, and Murray was brought up on clay. He is very competent on the surface.
I would expect him to make the quarter-finals in what should be another fascinating week of competition.
- Sports & Recreation
- Novak Djokovic
- Rafael Nadal