Nadal and Djokovic face major tests as clay season starts


Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face key physical and mental tests as the European clay-court season kicks off on Sunday at the Monte Carlo Masters. For 11-time tournament champion Nadal, it’s all about his troublesome left knee. For Djokovic, the major goal will be to emerge from a minor slump which left the world No. 1 short of the quarterfinals at both the Indian Wells and Miami Masters last month.
The Serb, embroiled in ATP political issues as president of the Player Council, has admitted to recent distractions. “I just had way too many things off the court. I guess that affected me a little bit on the court,” he said.
Djokovic has plenty on the line at his home base in Monaco, with the 31-year-old looking ahead to completing a possible “Djoko Slam” with a French Open title in two months. He collected trophies at Wimbledon and the US Open before defeating Nadal last January for a seventh title in Melbourne. While revealing no details, the winner of 15 Grand Slams admitted that he was not particularly fit for the American hardcourt swing.
The Nadal camp has put a positive spin on the condition of Spain’s king of clay, posting on social media footage of a final practice session before he left his Mallorca home to train at the Monte Carlo Country Club. Nadal has not competed since withdrawing from his semifinal clash against Roger Federer at Indian Wells a month ago. The Spaniard flew home for medical tests and can only hope that his chronically bad left knee will hold up in the run to Roland Garros, which begins on May 26.


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