The first of the Clay Court ATP Masters 1000 Tournaments got underway in Monte Carlo this week, with Rafa Nadal the favorite to win his eighth consecutive title.
Nadal's superiority on clay was compromised last year with two defeats by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in Madrid and Rome, and the Serb—who is seeded No. 1 in this event—will be his biggest threat again in Monte Carlo. The only big name missing from the lineup is World No. 3. Roger Federer, leaving the following players as the most likely to get into the final rounds of the tournament.
With seven straight wins and only one loss in 39 matches at this event, the Spaniard's awesome ability on clay has never been more clear cut than in Monte Carlo. He will have a few challenges however, not the least being the huge improvements Djokovic has made to his game on the clay in the past year. Another challenge may be in his own mind, as he has lost his last seven meetings with the Serb.
Firmly established these days as the World No. 1, Djokovic will be looking to consolidate that position by winning here, as he hopes to claim a first-ever French Open title next month at Roland Garros. He is already the winner of the first Grand Slam in Australia and is looking to be the first man to win the "Grand Slam of Grand Slams" since Rod Laver in 1968. The clay courts no longer hold any fears for him, and he is sure to be in the Final come next Sunday. He is definitely the one to beat.
Twice a semifinalist—in 2009 and 2011—and losing each time to Nadal, Murray showed much improvement on clay last year. He reached the semifinal at Roland Garros for the first time, where he again lost to Nadal. He is certainly capable of a semifinal place meeting with Djokovic, but he is probably not yet ready to win his first-ever tournament on clay.
Runner up last year, Ferrer is a seemingly tireless athlete who runs all day and is renowned for his ability to score from lost causes. A great returner, he is top-class in the long rallies that are always a major feature of clay court tennis. He is likely to meet Djokovic in the last eight, and on clay, he has the sort of game that would give him a decent chance to upset the odds.
Currently ranked fifth in the world, Tsonga is playing on his least favoured surface, but even on clay, he can give the best players a run for their money. He has never really excelled in this tournament and is likely to come up against Nadal in the semifinal, should he get that far.
Sleepers to look out for in this tournament include Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco. They are both clay court specialists and are more than capable of reaching the semifinals.