Nadal returns to old claycourt hunting ground at Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal

Also, the belief he will win his singles matches allows the other players to play with freedom similar to Messi, who absorbs most of the pressure when Barcelona play their matches. This will be Nadal's first tour-level match since his retirement in the Australian Open quarterfinals against Marin Cilic.

Little wonder that the Monte-Carlo Country Club, a couple of hair-pin bends across the border into France, has captured many a tennis fan's heart-and many a tennis player's heart, too.

Of all the qualifiers Djokovic could have drawn for his clay-court debut, it fell to his friend and fellow Serb, Lajovic, to try to stop him.

But with 20-time major victor Federer again skipping the clay season, Nadal must wait a while longer to try and avenge a run of five straight defeats to the Swiss star.

(9) Novak Djokovic bt.

It's the alpha-dog edge; the lesser-accomplished countrymen come on court, for whatever reason, with far less intrinsic belief in victory than their talent might indicate. But of course, Djokovic's play had something to do with that.

This will be the pair's second-ever meeting with their first meeting actually coming in Monte Carlo back in 2016.

Still, Djokovic's movement looked good. The Austrian should enjoy these slow conditions on his favourite surface, and has an excellent 23-6 record on the dirt in the last 12 months, holding serve 83.9% and breaking opponents 31.1% (combined 115.0%) - data which is in world-class territory.

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The Spanish superstar was joined in opening Suite 1029 at the official hotel by Elisabeth-Ann de Massy, ??President of the Tournament Committee, Mélanie-Antoinette de Massy, ??Jean-Luc Biamonti, Deputy President of the Societe des Bains de Mer, and Zeljko Franulovic, Tournament Director of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. He lost to then-No.

A complete overhaul of his team saw him hire ex-world No. 3 and current coach of Roger Federer, Ivan Ljubicic, as his manager.

Fifth seeded Dominic Thiem was the only man to get a win against Nadal on the "terre battue" a year ago, but comes into Monte Carlo short of match sharpness after almost two months out injured.

Zverev labored to a 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1 win against 17-year-old Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime, and next faces seventh-seeded Frenchman Lucas Pouille.

Coric was ranked No. 40 then.

He didn't take his foot off the accelerator either, as the 30-year-old served a bagel to his compatriot.

"For me it's not the ideal thing but if the sport is moving that way or they want to move that way, the only thing I can do is accept it and play", said the Spaniard ahead of his Monte Carlo Masters title defence.

The victor will play the victor between No. 5 seed Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev of Russian Federation.

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