Rafael Nadal is hoping to defend his 'King of Clay' crown ahead of what he describes as his 'favourite part of the season.'
This week's Monte Carlo Masters represents the start of a hectic few weeks and months for the world no.1. Monte Carlo is followed by events at Rome and Madrid, before the culmination at Roland Garros in May.
The French Open Grand Slam is unlikely to hold any fear for the Spaniard, only once has he lost a match in Paris - back in 2009 - on his way to a record-breaking eight titles thus far.
Firstly though, Nadal will be looking to claim a ninth Monaco title. Novak Djokovic upset the apple-cart somewhat last year by ending an eight-year winning streak with a comfortable 6-2 7-6 straight sets win.
The Serbian is also fighting to leapfrog Nadal into the world's top ranking position and key to achieving that feat is retaining his Monte Carlo crown.
The two will be favourites to meet in the final of this tournament, which would be their 41st career meeting in what is regarded as one of tennis' biggest singles rivalry.
Nadal leads the head-to-head with 22 victories but the 27-year-old is without a win over Djokovic since their US Open final at Flushing Meadows back in 2013.
The world no.2 has also had the upper hand over Nadal in their last three meetings - all straight sets wins - including a recent drubbing at the Sony Open in Miami which also followed success' in London and Beijing.
However, Nadal isn't keen to let any of that play on his mind in a part of the season he enjoys.
“In the last eight to nine years I had positive results here and I was able to win a lot of matches and compete for the best tournaments of this clay-court season,” said Nadal, who received a bye into round two along with most of the top seeds.
“That makes the situation a little special for me every time I come back to these tournaments because they are tournaments where I really feel I have great memories and I enjoy. All the tournaments I’m going to play in this next month-and-a-half, I love it. I feel comfortable in every city, in every tournament.”
He's won all that you can win on clay but there are still milestones for the 13-time Grand Slam winner to aim for. He has also won an incredible $67 million in prize money since turning pro in 2001.
Two wins in Monte Carlo will be enough to chalk a 300th clay-court win onto the board. While victory in all three masters events before Roland Garros will draw him level with Guillermo Vilas' 46 title wins on the surface.
Nadal spoke to the media after a day of sailing on the Mediterranean sea. The star isn't the only celebrity to set sail from the glamorous Monte Carlo harbour and it was an experience that the Manacor-born man enjoyed.
"It was a wonderful way to enjoy an afternoon,” continued Nadal.
“It was a special experience for me. I am from an island, so the sea, the sails and everything involved means a lot to me. I really enjoyed it and want to say thank you very much to all the Tuiga crew, who were very nice. I enjoyed it a lot with them."
The Masters 1000 tournament enters it's third-day tomorrow.
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