Rafa jokes Federer avoiding him on clay

MONTE CARLO (Monaco) • Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are known to have one of tennis' friendliest rivalries, but it did not stop the Spaniard from having a cheeky dig at the Swiss.

Federer announced after last month's Miami Open that he was giving the entire clay-court season a pass to rest and prepare for his Wimbledon title defence.

And at a Monte Carlo Masters press conference, the world No. 1 poked fun at 36-year-old Federer's absence by implying that the world No. 2 did not relish facing him on clay.

"He (Federer) says he will love to play against me again in best-of-five sets on clay. He said that a couple of days ago - and I thought he would play (at) Roland Garros," the 10-time French Open champion said.

"Then a few days later he says he will not play in one event, so there's a little bit of controversy with that."

Nadal is returning to competitive action in Monte Carlo this week has received a bye into the round of 32.

He has been off the ATP Tour since withdrawing with injury during his Australian Open quarter-final against Marin Cilic, but has recovered in time for the European clay-court swing which he has dominated throughout his career.

"I feel that I'm playing well," the 31-year-old said. "That helps me. I love this event. I always feel comfortable here. It's hopefully going to be my first event of the year that I can finish. And I'm excited about that."

Yesterday, Japan's Kei Nishikori saw off Czech 12th seed Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the second round. Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic beat fellow Serb Dusan Lajovic 6-0, 6-1.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2018, with the headline 'Rafa jokes Federer avoiding him on clay'. Print Edition | Subscribe