Fit-again Nadal fired up for clay season

MONTE CARLO (Monaco) • It's been a stop-start campaign for world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who played his first matches since his last-eight Australian Open retirement in Spain's Davis Cup quarter-final win over Germany last weekend.

But the Spaniard is now fighting fit and raring to go ahead of the clay-court season. The 10-time French Open champion is well aware how crucial a good run-up to the major will be with his Roland Garros title on the line.

"My mind is on getting ready for the five upcoming clay tournaments which are so important for me.

"I am eager to start playing, since I have only played one tournament this year, in Australia but I retired. It feels like I am starting not just the clay season, but the 2018 season," he told Spanish TV's IB3 TV.

And the defending champion could face old rival Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters quarter-finals this week.

The top-seeded Spaniard, who claimed his 10th Monte Carlo title last year, has a bye for the first round and will open his ATP Tour clay-court season against either Slovenia's Aljaz Bedene or a qualifier.

"I have won the Monte Carlo Masters 10 times, that's a good number. But one more victory, why not?" said Nadal.

The 31-year-old first won the Monte Carlo tournament in 2005 and has beaten Djokovic twice in the final, although the Serb is the only player to topple Nadal in a final with a straight-set win in 2013.

Djokovic takes on a qualifier in his opener and is drawn to face Austrian world No. 7 Dominic Thiem in the third round, as the 12-time Grand Slam champion plays his first tournament since splitting from coach Andre Agassi.

Australian wild card Thanasi Kokkinakis, who stunned world No. 2 Roger Federer at the Miami Masters last month to see Nadal retake the No. 1 ranking, is a possible third-round opponent for the 16-time Grand Slam winner.

Second seed Marin Cilic of Croatia will kick off his campaign in the second round against either Spaniard Fernando Verdasco or Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas.

Third seed Alexander Zverev, who won two Masters titles last season, starts against Luxembourg's Gilles Muller or a qualifier, as the 20-year-old German looks to bounce back from last week's Davis Cup loss to Nadal.

Fourth seed Grigor Dimitov meets either Filip Krajinovic or Paolo Lorenzi in the second round.

Spain, who beat Germany 3-2, play France in the Davis Cup semi-finals in September, while Croatia take on the United States in the other tie.

AGENCE-FRANCE PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 15, 2018, with the headline 'Fit-again Nadal fired up for clay season'. Print Edition | Subscribe