No, this year Rafael Nadal will not win his 8th consecutive title at the Monte Carlo Masters 1000. No way. He has to leave something for the others. And because we all need something to cling to, here are a few things to help you believe.
1- Because Novak Djokovic is finally there
This time last season, Nole, the world N°1, couldn’t stride out onto the courts of the Monte Carlo Country Club due to a bad knee injury. In his absence, it was easy for Nadal to place his stamp on the tournament and record his 7th consecutive victory. Not as strong as in 2011, when he saw off all-comers, defeating Rafa on his home clay in Madrid on his way to a 43-match winning streak (ended only in the French Open semi-final by Roger Federer), Djoko can nonetheless this year return fully fit and with two small advantages (i) An important victory against Nadal in Melbourne earlier this year and (ii) a fragile knee. Not his own this time, but Nadal’s. The times, they are a-changin’.
2- Because 7 is a pretty cool number
Seven victories in a row at Monte Carlo, then. The number 7 is not just any number, it is considered by some as a magical number. If the Spaniard is not convinced that there’s no need for him to add an 8th Monte Carlo title to his collection, just consider that Lance Armstrong retired after 7 yellow jerseys, there are 7 Deadly Sins, 7 Wonders of the World, the footballers of Olympique Lyonnais stalled at 7 consecutive Ligue 1 titles, the 7 Harry Potter books, 7 colours in a rainbow and that there’s nothing after the 7th Art. And don’t we find rapture in 7th Heaven, rather than the 8th? 7 is definitely cooler.
3- Because he has a Belgian in his way
Today you need a lot of bottle, or be called Djokovic, Söderling or Federer to be able to boast a victory over The King of Clay on his favourite surface. With the Swiss and the Swede absent this year and Djoko in the top half of the draw, Rafael Nadal seems to have an easy route to the final. However, if he looks more closely, he will notice in his way Oliver Rochus, who has already beaten him on clay. Oh yes, The Belgian veteran schooled him 6-2, 6-2 in Majorca in 2002. At the time the Spaniard, still rough around the edges, was ranked over 750th world-wide, while Rochus was sitting in 70th. The balance of power has changed slightly since, but Rochus, 31 years old, took some notable scalps in 2010, against Djokovic in Miami or Soderling in Nice. If he’s not already out by the time you read this, the Belgian could get one over on Nadal one last time – delighting French headline writers eager for the easy puns of Rocher (rock)/Rochus.
4- Because without Roger, there’s just no point.
The draw of the 2012 edition of Monte Carlo, unveiled on Saturday afternoon, doesn’t seem to signal the end of Nadal’s reign in the principality. The Spaniard can only really be wary of clay-court specialists Verdasco and Almagro, and possibly Tsonga should he make the semi-final. Novak Djokovic, even with his status as world N°1, has a potentially much heartier menu, with the possibility of facing Juan Monaco or David Ferrer, Andy Murray or Thomas Berdych before finally having to deal with the Majorcan. So, yes, the elements are not really in the Serbian’s favour, but someone is missing for Nadal : Roger Federer, his clay-court bunny. Absent only once during Nadal’s 7 year ownership of the title, Nadal having instead tormented Fernando Verdasco in the 2010 final on his way to a 6-2,6-0 victory . No doubt that for panache and also as a question of class, Rafael Nadal just could not allow himself an 8th Monegasque title without beating Roger, the player that made him great.
By Ronan Boscher