Scouting Report: Djokovic & Nadal Lead The Way In Belgrade & Barcelona

It will be a star-studded week as the European clay-court season continues in Barcelona and Belgrade, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic leading the way in their respective home country.

Nadal is the top seed at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, an ATP 500 tournament. Djokovic highlights the field at the Serbia Open, which is back on the calendar for the first time since 2012. The event is being held at the Novak Tennis Center.

ATPTour.com looks at what you need to know for the week ahead:

Draws: Barcelona | Belgrade

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN BARCELONA
1) Rafa Going For No. 12:
Nadal is an 11-time titlist in Barcelona, and he will try to lift his 12th trophy at the ATP 500 this week. The legendary lefty owns a staggering 61-4 record at the tournament, where he first competed in 2003 as a 16-year-old. Nadal will begin his run against Ilya Ilya Ivashka or Tallon Griekspoor and the first seeded opponent he could face is 13th seed Cristian Garin, who has won all five of his ATP Tour titles on clay. In his last appearance in Barcelona, Nadal lost in the semi-finals in 2019 against Dominic Thiem.

2) Stefanos Soaring: Stefanos Tsitsipas is the second seed, and he is flying higher than ever after winning his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. The Greek will feel at home in Barcelona, where he reached his first ATP Tour final in 2018. Then only 19, he defeated a host of strong clay-court players, including Diego Schwartzman, Thiem and Pablo Carreno Busta. Only Nadal was able to stop him in the championship match. Tsitsipas will play Jaume Munar or Thiago Monteiro in his opener.

3) Rublev Roaring On Clay: Andrey Rublev, who lost against Tsitsipas in the Monte-Carlo final, will take plenty of confidence into this ATP 500 after his run in the Principality. He also leads the ATP Tour with 24 wins this season. The Russian has played in the Barcelona main draw just once, at the age of 17 in 2015, and he fell in his three attempts to qualify for the event since. Rublev is a two-time tour-level titlist on clay, and he will play Benoit Paire or a qualifier in the second round.

4) #NextGenATP Stars In Action: Some of the biggest #NextGenATP stars will compete in Barcelona. Tenth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime will attempt to continue his ascent. Jannik Sinner just made his first Masters 1000 final in Miami, and he will try to make an impact in Spain as the 11th seed. The Italian will begin his campaign against former Top 10 star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Belarusian Egor Gerasimov. Italian prospect, 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti, will play someone more than twice his age in 39-year-old Feliciano Lopez, and 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will battle Next Gen ATP Finals alumnus Frances Tiafoe.

5) Dangers In Doubles Draw: Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah lead a stacked doubles draw as the top seeds, but there are plenty of dangerous unseeded teams to watch for. The Colombians will open against Frenchmen Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, who have won all four Grand Slam championships as a pair. Monte-Carlo finalists Daniel Evans and Neal Skupski, who also finished runners-up in Miami, are also unseeded.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH IN BELGRADE
1) Djokovic Leads The Way:
Djokovic will attempt to win his third title in Belgrade. The Serbian went 8-1 in his three previous appearances in this tournament, and that defeat came due to a retirement in the 2010 quarter-finals. The home hero lifted the trophy in 2009 and 2011. One week after being upset in the third round in Monte-Carlo, Djokovic will try to bounce back against South Korean Soonwoo Kwon or a qualifier. The 33-year-old got off to a strong start to his 2021 season by winning his two matches at the ATP Cup and lifting a record-extending ninth Australian Open trophy.

2) Serbian Standouts: Djokovic is not the only Serbian in the field. Five of the eight seeded players are home favourites: top seed Djokovic, fourth seed Dusan Lajovic, fifth seed Filip Krajinovic, eighth seed Miomir Kecmanovic and ninth seed Laslo Djere. There are eight Serbians in the main draw, with Nikola Milojevic, Danilo Petrovic and Viktor Troicki receiving wild cards.

3) Matteo On The Move: Second seed Matteo Berrettini is looking for form in Belgrade as he recovers from an injury that kept him out after the Australian Open until Monte-Carlo, where the Italian lost his opening match. Berrettini will try to build momentum, starting with his second-round clash against Troicki or countryman Marco Cecchinato.

4) Karatsev Climbing: Few players have received more attention this year than Aslan Karatsev, who made a dream run to the Australian Open semi-finals as a qualifier and then claimed his maiden tour-level crown in Dubai. The Russian earned a solid win in Monte-Carlo against Lorenzo Musetti before bowing out against eventual champion Stefanos Tsitsipas. Karatsev will face a stiff challenge in his Belgrade opener against #NextGenATP American Sebastian Korda or Slovenian Aljaz Bedene. Korda defeated the Russian in qualifying at Roland Garros last year as well as in Miami this season.

5) Marach/Krajicek Lead The Way: The highest seeds in the doubles draw are Austin Krajicek and Oliver Marach, the second seeds, following Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic‘s withdrawal. Ariel Behar and Gonzalo Escobar, who have won their first two ATP Tour titles this year, are also in the field. Single star Matteo Berrettini is competing with fellow Italian Andrea Vavassori.

Draw Preview: Nadal Faces Test For 12th Title In Loaded Barcelona Draw

Rafael Nadal faces a tricky path at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell if he is to lift a record-extending 12th trophy. Nine players in the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings feature at the ATP 500 clay-court tournament.

Nadal has avoided his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters conqueror, Russia’s Andrey Rublev, who features in the bottom half of the 48-player draw alongside Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas. But the Spanish superstar may need to overcome the likes of David Goffin, Karen Khachanov, Diego Schwartzman, Daniel Evans, Fabio Fognini or Pablo Carreno Busta to reach the final.

The 34-year-old Nadal, who has a 61-4 match record in Barcelona since making his tournament debut in 2003, will begin his quest against France’s Adrian Mannarino or a qualifier. Nadal lifted the Barcelona trophy in 2005-09, 2011-13 and 2016-18.

View Barcelona Singles Draw | Watch Uncovered: Behind The Scenes At Barcelona 2019

Second seed Tsitsipas, who beat Evans in Monte-Carlo on Saturday for a place in his third ATP Masters 1000 final, may meet Rublev in the Barcelona semi-finals. The pair will meet for the seventh time in their ATP Head2Head series on Saturday in the Monte-Carlo final.

Tsitsipas, who lost to Nadal in Barcelona in his first ATP Tour final three years ago, will begin his quest against Brazil’s Thiago Monteiro or Jaume Munar of Spain. Rublev, who knocked out Nadal 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 in the Monte-Carlo semi-finals on Friday, and has an ATP Tour-best 24-4 match record in 2021, is set to face France’s Benoit Paire or a qualifier in his first match. Rublev could meet No. 15 seed Casper Ruud, the player he beat in the Monte-Carlo semi-finals in the third round.

How To Watch

Italian wild Lorenzo Musetti, the youngest player in the Top 100, faces veteran Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in the first round. The winner will advance to a second-round clash against No. 10 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is being coached by Toni Nadal. The loaded section also features seventh seed Denis Shapovalov, who will first meeting France’s Jeremy Chardy or this season’s Qatar ExxonMobil Open titlist Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia.

Jannik Sinner, who is close to breaking into the Top 20 of the FedEx ATP Rankings after a strong start to the year that includes capturing the Great Ocean Road Open title (d. Travaglia), also features in the bottom half of the draw and may meet fifth-seeded Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round.

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The 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, who recently reached the AnyTech365 Andalucia Open semi-finals (l. to Munar), plays American Frances Tiafoe in the top half of the draw with fourth seed Schwartzman a second-round opponent.

Elsewhere, Kei Nishikori, the 2014 and 2015 Barcelona champion, who is continuing his comeback from injuries, faces Guido Pella in the first round. He could be a potential third-round opponent for Nadal.

Nadal: 'My Serve Was A Disaster'

Rafael Nadal was at a loss to explain his service woes on Friday at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, but the 11-time former champion says that he’ll quickly return to the practice court.

The Spanish superstar struck an uncharacteristic seven double faults – and was broken seven times – in his 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 loss to sixth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev.

“For some reason I had problems with my serve,” said Nadal, who won just 42 per cent of his second service points. “I don’t understand why, because I was not having problems in the practices at all. But today, was one of those days that my serve was a disaster.

“Serving like this, the serve creates an impact on the rest of the game. When you serve with no confidence, you are just focusing on trying to serve, not thinking about how you want to [hit] the ball. You just think about what you have to do with the serve to put the ball in.

“When you face great player like him and you don’t play well, you should lose. That’s easy to analyse.”

How To Watch

Nadal, who recovered from 2-4 down in the second set, praised Rublev, who is now an ATP Tour-best 23-4 on the 2021 season.

“He played well and he deserved [it] more than me,” said Nadal, who is now 73-6 at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. “I fought. That’s the positive thing, I was there. But you can’t expect [to] win against a player like him losing my serve… too many [times]… He played great. He played aggressive, as I knew [he would]. Well done to him. He’s a great guy. [I] wish him all the best.”

The 34-year-old will now travel back to Spain to compete at the upcoming Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, where he is also an 11-time titlist.

“The only thing that I can do is go to Barcelona and keep practising, keep practising, try to fix the things that didn’t work well. I think my backhand today was not [good] enough. Lots of mistakes. I was not able to open the court with my backhand then.”

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Rublev Stuns Nadal In Monte-Carlo QFs

When asked about how Casper Ruud will fare on Saturday against Rublev, Nadal admitted the Norwegian, who trains at the Rafa Nadal Academy by Movistar, has a good chance.

“It’s a tough match for both of them,” said Nadal. “Casper is a great player. Especially on this surface, he’s one of the best players in the world. [It] will be a tough battle tomorrow.

“I don’t see a clear favourite. I think both of them can win. Casper is playing great… [It] will be nice that somebody from the academy [gets to] the final of Monte-Carlo and wins it.”

Rublev Stuns Nadal In Monte-Carlo QFs

Andrey Rublev held his nerve to complete a stunning 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 upset over 11-time champion Rafael Nadal on Friday to reach the semi-finals at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters for the first time.

The sixth-seeded Russian entered the clash trailing Nadal 0-2 in their ATP Head2Head and facing down the Spaniard’s daunting 73-5 record at this event. But he came out swinging fearlessly against Nadal on Court Rainier III, the same court where the Spaniard has lifted a record 11 trophies in the Principality.

“[On one side], if we look [at] a player like Rafa, who is the best clay-court player in history, then of course it’s one of my best victories for sure,” Rublev said in his post-match press conference. “But if you look at [it] from [the] other side, how he feels, for sure he didn’t play his even ‘good’ level today. In his position it’s so tough when people expect [that] you’re the best player on clay and you have to win yes or yes every time. You cannot lose on clay because you’re the best. It’s so tough to play with this feeling.

“He’s doing this year by year. He’s winning all the tournaments or going deep every time on clay tournaments. This is amazing how he handles this. That’s why he’s one of the legends.”

Rublev pressed Nadal from the back of the court as he dictated the rallies with his forehand and was rewarded with seven breaks of serve across three sets. Nadal has never hit more than eight double faults in a single tour-level match in his career (2014 Indian Wells), but he struck five in the first set alone and seven in total against Rublev. The Spaniard looked out of sorts during the early exchanges and was uncharacteristically misfiring on the backhand wing – a side that Rublev honed in on to great success.

“All the situation was strange,” Rublev said of his dominant start. “I mean, [it] was not real that I was winning 6-2, 3-1, having breakpoints for [a] second break. It was not real. Probably inside I understood that something is going to change. It cannot be like this all the match. If it’s like this all the match, then I don’t know, probably Rafa had his worst day of his life.”

HE
– Graphic courtesy Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media
– Take a deep dive into this match with Match Insights powered by Infosys NIA

Once the third seed got going, it seemed like a classic Nadal comeback on clay was inevitable as he took the second set after a grueling 74-minute battle. With Nadal’s booming forehand finally connecting, the games became longer as the Spaniard tried to find inroads for a comeback. He finally broke through to level the score at 4-4, and reeled off the last four games of the set.

But Rublev responded emphatically in the decider, reestablishing his lead with an early break. He met Nadal blow for blow from the baseline, overpowering the Spaniard to open up a 5-1 lead. Rublev needed two hours and 32 minutes to close out the victory and seal a spot in his first Monte-Carlo semi-final. 

How To Watch

“I would say this week I am controlling my emotions [really well]. At the end that’s the key,” Rublev said. “If after the second set I would say something or if I would show emotions, for sure the third set will be over, [it] will be 6-2 for him. So I’m happy that I could handle it.”

The victory equals the biggest result of Rublev’s career. He now owns four wins against the World No. 3-ranked player, including a 6-3 6-4 rout of Roger Federer at 2019 ATP Masters 1000 Cincinnati. Like Nadal at Monte-Carlo, Federer owns the tournament record for most titles at Cincinnati with seven wins.

Into his second consecutive ATP Masters 1000 semi-final, sixth seed Rublev will face Casper Ruud for a shot at his maiden championship match at this level. His opponent also completed an upset of his own on Friday, toppling defending champion Fabio Fognini in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, to advance. Rublev owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against Ruud, including two victories on clay.

“[Casper] is playing really well. I have known him [for a] long time. He is an amazing player and every match against him was a dramatic match,” Rublev said. “We had really great rallies and a really great level of tennis. It is going to be super tough.

“He is in great shape now. He finished today much earlier [than me]. We will see what is going to happen tomorrow. I will try to recover as best as I can and to do my best tomorrow.”

Friday Preview: Rublev To Battle Nadal in Monte-Carlo

Friday’s quarter-finals are set at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. Rafael Nadal will be in fresh form against Andrey Rublev after needing just 55 minutes to get past Grigor Dimitrov. Rublev, on the other hand, took two hours and 44 minutes to take out Roberto Bautista Agut.

Nadal gave up just two games to the Bulgarian, who was off his A game and hindered by a rotten tooth.

“Grigor missed much more than usual for him,” Nadal said. “We had some amazing battles together. It’s true that today was not one of these ones. I feel a little bit sorry for him today, that he played I think a bad match. I did my thing. But that’s it.”

Rublev survived a battle with Bautista Agut that included six breaks of serve, and saw him fall behind 4-1 in the first two sets before pulling out a 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-3 win.

Nadal leads the ATP Head2Head Series against Rublev 2-0 with both wins coming on hard courts (2020 Nitto ATP Finals and 2017 US Open). The World No. 3 has yet to be challenged by the 23-year-old: Rublev has managed more than three games in a set just once

To have any chance at all at the upset, Rublev will have to pick and choose his big-hitting moments carefully (like he eventually did to get the win over Bautista Agut). He’ll have to be the aggressor from start to finish with little margin for error, and dictate rallies by pulling Nadal off the court towards his backhand by using his huge forehand. The key will be managing his unforced errors and emotions — it won’t help that he will be coming in more fatigued than the Spaniard. 

Daniel Evans will be looking to back up his upset of World No. 1 Novak Djokovic when he takes on David Goffin. Goffin pulled out his own upset over fifth seed Alexander Zverev, but the Briton stole most of the headlines after his backhand slice “dismantled” Djokovic.

“Obviously, I had a fair idea that he wouldn’t be that comfortable with it,” Evans said of his slice. “I thought he struggled to generate much pace off of my slice. I was using that more and more in the match because I didn’t feel he was hurting me off it. I actually thought I could get on offense from that.

“That’s how the match went, I think. If you look at it, I sliced well, ran around and hit good forehands, put him under quite a bit of pressure.”

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Goffin and Evans have never played each other before but the match-up should be a great one given Evans’ unpredictable variety and Goffin’s court coverage.

“If you see Dan, he’s an amazing, talented player,” Goffin said. “I always thought that he could play on every surface. Maybe in his head he was not a clay-court player in the past, so he was not super confident on that surface. But now it looks like he’s more professional, more stable in his game.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas did well to ease past five-time ATP Tour clay-court champion Cristian Garin 6-3, 6-4 and will take a lot of confidence into his clash with Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. It will also be their first meeting. Davidovich Fokina, a 21-year-old who topped Lucas Pouille in the third round, is playing in just his sixth Masters 1000 event and first quarter-final. 

After a 6-4, 7-6(1) over Filip Krajinovic, Fabio Fognini will take on Casper Ruud in their quarter-final matchup. This week saw Fognini win his first Masters 1000-level match since Shanghai in 2019, the same year that the Italian won Monte-Carlo for his biggest ATP Tour title.  

Ruud was all but out against Pablo Carreno Busta in the last match to finish on Thursday, but he battled back from a 5-2 deficit in the third set to score the upset, 7-6(4), 5-7, 7-5. 

Watch Live | View TV Schedule 


SCHEDULE – FRIDAY, APRIL 16, 2021

COURT RAINIER III start 11:00 am

[4] S. Tsitsipas (GRE) vs A. Davidovich Fokina (ESP)
D. Evans (GBR) vs [11] D. Goffin (BEL)

Not Before 2:00 pm
C. Ruud (NOR) vs [15] F. Fognini (ITA)
[6] A. Rublev (RUS) vs [3] R. Nadal (ESP)

COURT DES PRINCES start 11:00 am
C. Garin (CHI) / G. Pella (ARG) vs [4] M. Granollers (ESP) / H. Zeballos (ARG)
[7] P. Herbert (FRA) / N. Mahut (FRA) vs [2] N. Mektic (CRO) / M. Pavic (CRO)
After Suitable Rest – D. Evans (GBR) / N. Skupski (GBR) vs R. Klaasen (RSA) / B. McLachlan (JPN)
After Suitable Rest – [1] J. Cabal (COL) / R. Farah (COL) vs F. Fognini (ITA) / D. Schwartzman (ARG)

Why Nadal Never Lets Up: ‘I Am Always Focussed On What Can Happen’

Third seed Rafael Nadal dropped just two games and didn’t face a break point in a one-sided third-round meeting with Grigor Dimitrov at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, but the Spaniard isn’t letting the result get to his head.

It was clear to viewers at home – and certainly to Nadal himself on Court Rainier III – that Dimitrov was not at his best. The Bulgarian was struggling to find the court during the 6-1, 6-1 rout, trying to finish points quickly and racking up 35 unforced errors in the process.

His struggles did not go unnoticed by the 11-time Monte-Carlo champion; the pair has met 14 times previously, with Dimitrov taking a set off of Nadal at this same venue in 2013. But in signature Nadal fashion, he did not concede an inch to his opponent on the court.

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Clinical Nadal Dismisses Dimitrov In Monte-Carlo

“Grigor missed much more than usual [for] him. We’ve had some amazing battles together. [It] is true that today was not one of these ones,” Nadal said after extending his ATP Head2Head lead to 14-1 over the Bulgarian.

“I feel a little bit sorry for him today, that he played, I think, a bad match. I did my thing. But that’s it. I am just focussed on [trying] to play as good as possible every single point.”

It was only after the match that the real culprit was revealed. In a press conference, Dimitrov told journalists that he had been struggling with debilitating pain due to ‘a massive tooth problem’ as a result of an infection.

“I didn’t know that. Now I understand a little bit more the things,” Nadal said. “I wish him all the best. He’s a great guy, a good friend… He didn’t tell me. That shows how good [a] guy he is. Hopefully the situation gets better for him soon.”

Nadal booked a spot into his 16th consecutive quarter-final in Monte-Carlo without dropping a set and at the expense of just five games. But even here, where the Spaniard has won 73 matches and taken a bite out of 11 trophies, Nadal never lets himself believe he is the favourite.

How To Watch

“I am always focussed on what can happen. Even if sometimes you go on court, you go, ‘Okay, I’m feeling great’, I always have had all the respect for the match, for the opponent, and for the tournament,” he said.

“Even if I feel good – I don’t say I am ‘worried’, but I am always focussed on trying to not lose that feeling. It’s not about, ‘I’m going on court and I’m feeling good today so things [are] going to go well.’ I feel good, so I need to keep going. That’s the way I proceed.”

Nadal will hope to continue as planned when he takes on the winner of sixth seed Andrey Rublev and ninth seed Roberto Bautista Agut

“Good opponents [ahead]. I need to be playing at my highest level,” Nadal said. “I hope to be ready to play well and give myself chances to keep going.”

Clinical Nadal Dismisses Dimitrov In Monte-Carlo

No. 14 seed Grigor Dimitrov might be a resident of Monte-Carlo, but on Thursday it was Rafael Nadal who continued to make himself right at home in the Principality. The 11-time champion was in imperious form against Dimitrov as he dropped just two games on his way to the quarter-finals. 

Nadal needed just 55 minutes to score a 6-1, 6-1 victory and extend his ATP Head2Head dominance over the Bulgarian to 14-1 (4-0 in Monte-Carlo). The Spaniard didn’t face a break point in either set and fired 17 winners to close out the victory.

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“[I am] sorry for him. He played a bad match. That is the truth,” Nadal said in his post match interview. “He made a lot of mistakes. I was there. I was doing the right thing, but it is true that today was more his fault than my good tennis.”

Three double faults from Dimitrov in his opening service game set the tone for the match early on, as the Bulgarian quickly surrendered the first of four breaks to Nadal. Dimitrov found himself unable to make up the lost ground as the third seed got going.

The Spaniard targeted Dimitrov’s one-handed backhand to great success, and piled on the pressure every time his opponent stepped up to serve. As a result Nadal broke Dimitrov four times during the match, opening both sets with daunting double-break 4-0 leads.

“I think I did the right preparation. I felt ready for action again. I am excited to play here in one of my favourite tournaments, without a doubt,” Nadal said. “[I am] happy to enjoy the competition again, to enjoy the Tour. In Mallorca, I had some good practices. Let’s see. Tomorrow [will be] another tough match. I hope to be ready for it.”

Back into the last eight at the Monte-Carlo Country Club for the 16th consecutive time, Nadal will next face sixth seed Andrey Rublev, who booked his first quarter-final berth in the Principality with a hard-fought 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-3 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut. Nadal owns a 2-0 ATP Head2Head advantage over the Russian, with both victories coming on hard courts.

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Take The Nadal Monte-Carlo Challenge

It’s common knowledge that Rafael Nadal is the Master of Monte-Carlo. The Spaniard, who made his tournament debut as a 16-year-old in 2003, has won a record 11 titles in the Principality. 

But do you recall who Nadal has beaten in those championship matches at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters? Eight different players are among the Spaniard’s victims, including one he denied in three straight finals from 2006-08.

See how many of those beaten finalists you remember. Take the Rafael Nadal Monte-Carlo Challenge and share your results!

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Nadal Grades His Performance: ‘Nothing Unbelievable, But Nothing Wrong’

Rafael Nadal was in form to begin his clay-court season on Wednesday, dismissing fellow lefty Federico Delbonis to reach the third round of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. But for the 34-year-old, it was just another day at the office.

“It was solid match, I think. Of course, a very positive result. He’s a good player on clay. [It was a] positive start for me,” Nadal said. “I think I just really played a solid match. Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do today.”

Nadal is now 72-5 at this ATP Masters 1000 event. Typically, players wait nearly a full year to return to clay after Roland Garros. But the Spaniard claimed his record-extending 12th trophy in Paris just six months ago, as the clay-court major was moved to October due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Honestly, I just played two tournaments on clay [last year]. That’s the truth. I never felt last year that I played a full clay-court season. I just played Rome and Roland Garros,” Nadal said. “For the same time that you told me you should feel strange because we have a shorter gap, at the same time inside myself I never had a real clay-court season last year.

“I am just trying to adapt myself and trying to make the decisions that I feel more comfortable always.”

Nadal looked impressive nonetheless on Court Rainier III, dropping just three games against a player who was competing in his fifth clay-court event of the season. The third seed broke the Argentine’s serve five times and won 57 per cent of his return points.

“I feel good, yeah. I think I had great practice sessions for the last three, four weeks,” Nadal said. “I feel in good shape, honestly. You can win, you can lose, you can play better or worse. In terms of physically and mentally, I’m enjoying being on the Tour.”

The 11-time Monte-Carlo champion will next face a familiar foe in Grigor Dimitrov, who has ousted Jan-Lennard Struff and Jeremy Chardy to reach the third round. Nadal knows he has to be locked in against the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion.

“Tomorrow I have a very tough opponent in front [of me], so I need to be at my 100 per cent every single moment,” Nadal said.

The lefty leads their ATP Head2Head series 13-1, including three triumphs in Monte-Carlo, but Nadal isn’t expecting anything short of a battle against the Bulgarian, who has pushed him to a deciding set seven times. One of those seven came in the 2013 quarter-finals in the Principality.

“We had some great matches. In Melbourne, of course [it was] best of five. The semi-final [was] an emotional one. We played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai with Grigor,” Nadal said. “He’s a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. [It’s] going to be a tough test in my second round. Going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament.”

Nadal Sweeps Past Delbonis, Fires Warning In Monte-Carlo

Rafael Nadal got off to a perfect start on Wednesday in Monte-Carlo, where he seeks a record-extending 12th trophy. The Spanish superstar looked in strong form in a comprehensive 6-1, 6-2 victory over Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis over 81 minutes at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

In his first match since 17 February, when he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open quarter-finals, Nadal struck 16 winners to beat Delbonis. The 34-year-old Nadal is now 72-5 at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he won an Open-Era record eight successive titles from 2005 to 2012 and a further three straight crowns from 2016 to 2018.

“It was solid match,” said Nadal. “Of course, a very positive result. He’s a good player on clay… Nothing unbelievable, but nothing wrong. Just a solid match, a positive start. I think I did what I had to do today.”

Nadal will next play Monte-Carlo resident and No. 14 seed, Grigor Dimitrov, who saved six of seven break points in a 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over Jeremy Chardy of France in one hour and 42 minutes earlier on Wednesday afternoon. Nadal leads Dimitrov 13-1 in their ATP Head2Head series, including wins in their three matches at this clay-court tournament (2013, 2018-19).

“We’ve had some great matches,” said Nadal. “In Melbourne, of course… We played another great match in Beijing, another one in Shanghai. He’s a good friend, a good guy, and a great player. It’s going to be a tough test in my second round. It’s going to be his third. I need to be ready for it. I hope to be ready for it. I am just excited to play a tough match very early in the tournament.”

Nadal
Graphic courtesy Hawk-Eye Innovations/ATP Media

Third seed Nadal, who is normally used to competing in front of a capacity 10,200 fans on Court Rainier III each year, started with a bang, breaking Delbonis in his first service game after a backhand error. The World No. 87 continued to come under pressure, forced deep behind the baseline in bruising baseline rallies. Consecutive double faults from Delbonis handed Nadal a 4-0 advantage. Nadal completed the 30-minute first set with a forehand.

There was no let-up from Nadal in the early stages of the second set. The Spaniard won 10 of 12 points en route to a 3-0 lead, but his dominance was halted in the next game. Delbonis broke serve on his fourth break point, when a Nadal backhand hit the net and bounced wide, and went on to recover to 2-3. As groundstroke errors continued to mount for Delbonis, Nadal broke for a fifth time at 4-2. He is now 5-0 lifetime against Delbonis in their ATP Head2Head series.

Delbonis, 30, had been seeking to record the biggest win of his career since overcoming then No. 2-ranked Andy Murray at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. He is now 3-16 lifetime against Top 10 opponents.

Did You Know?
Nadal is 446-40 lifetime on clay-courts since turning professional in 2001. Only Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas (681) and Spain’s Manuel Orantes (569) have won more matches on red dirt in the Open Era (since 1968).

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