Clay court season has begun as No. 1 Novak Djokovic puts his Monte Carlo Masters title on the line and tennis’ biggest names converge on Monaco, including clay master Rafael Nadal and long-time rivals Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
The Serbian star, who’s gone 28-1 and already claimed four titles this season, sewed up the first two Masters 1000 tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells. In Monte Carlo, Djokovic stands as the No. 1 seed with Murray at No. 2, Federer at No. 3, and Nadal at No. 5.
Assuming both make it past the first four rounds, the draw has seemingly set up a 46th career meeting between Djokovic and Federer in the semifinals. Neither could face Nadal or Murray unless they reach the championship.
Djokovic has claimed two of the last three Monte Carlo tournaments, while Federer last made the final in 2014 and three other times between 2006 and 2008 but lost to Nadal in each match.
Despite Spaniard’s poor 12-6 record and early elimination from several tournaments, Djokovic and Federer will of course be leery of Nadal as he steps onto his favored surface for the first time this season. Nadal’s claimed the Monte Carlo eight times in his career, and he’s always used the clay portion of the season to build momentum prior to the French Open.
Djokovic, in particular, will treat this tournament as an important precursor for the French Open, which begins on May 16. He has reached the final three of the last four years, and it's the only Grand Slam to elude him.
With the first round taking place Monday and spilling over into Wednesday, Djokovic will face the winner between the Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely and Russia’s Teymuraz Gabashvili in the second round.
Federer, 34, will meet Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the second round on Tuesday. Garcia-Lopez defeated Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 7-5 6-1. Federer has not faced Garcia-Lopez since 2009, but owns a 3-0 record against him.
The Swiss legend may need to shake off some court rust. Federer had surgery on his left knee on Feb. 3, and hasn’t played a competitive match since losing to Djokovic at the Australian Open semifinals.
On the other side of the draw, Nadal will first meet Great Britain’s Aljaz Bedene, who recorded his first ATP Tour win, in the second round on Wednesday. Nadal will have a difficult road to the final as he shares a bracket with No. 4 seed Stan Wawrinka as well as No. 15 Gilles Simon and No. 12 Dominic Thiem. It was the Austrian-born Thiem who ousted Nadal in the semifinals in Argentina earlier this year.
The entire tournament will be decided by Sunday. The second round will wrap up on Wednesday, with the third round starting on the same day and finishing up on Thursday. The quarterfinals take place on Friday, followed by the semis starting Saturday and the final on Sunday.