Nadal aims to start annual clay domination in Monte Carlo | sports | Hindustan Times
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Nadal aims to start annual clay domination in Monte Carlo

Rafael Nadal begins his annual quest for another season of total clay-court domination at the Monte Carlo Open which starts in Monte Carlo on Sunday.

sports Updated: Apr 11, 2009 20:55 IST

Rafael Nadal begins his annual quest for another season of total clay-court domination at the Monte Carlo Open which starts in Monte Carlo on Sunday.

The Spaniard is joined by wild card entry Roger Federer in what is a high-stakes start on the road to the French Open at Roland Garros.

Nadal, who has beaten Federer for the title in the principality in the last three editions, will be bidding for his fifth trophy in a row at the iconic Country Club venue overlooking the Mediterranean.

Federer, still without a title in 2009, made a late entry after weighing his options following a semi-final loss last week on harcourt at the Miami Masters to Novak Djokovic.

The Swiss had opted to play a reduced clay calendar prior to the May 25 start in Paris, but will now go into battle at an event beloved by many European players. After limited success this season, the number 2 likely decided that he needed more court time.

Nadal is hoping for a recovery of sorts after a quarter-final in Miami, beaten by Argentine Juan Del Potro. The 22-year-old who tops the ATP rankings dropped hints that he may be re-thinking a rigorous schedule which takes him to four events in five weeks before the French Open.

But whatever he decides, getting away quickly in Monte Carlo will be a confidence boost to the player who trails Briton Andy Murray two titles to three this season.

"I am excited to start to play on clay, trying to play good matches again," Nadal said before leaving the US.

"I have to be 100 percent ready mentally and physically," added Nadal after Monte Carlo is set to move on to Barcelona, Rome and then possibly Madrid.

Federer will need to quickly get his feet dirty on the surface which could shape up as the salvation to his early season.

The top eight seeds - Djokovic stands third, Murray fourth and Del Potro fifth - all benefit from opening-round byes, with Nadal to play the winner from Russian Igor Kunistyn and Juan Chela.

Federer will face either Jurgen Melzer or Andreas Seppi in the second round and could run into Davis Cup teammate and 13th seed Stan Wawrinka in the third round.

Murray takes perhaps the most form into the clay season after lifting wins at Doha, Rotterdam (over Nadal) and Miami. The Scot starts against either Romanian Victor Hanescu or a qualifier.

Former number 1 players Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were drawn into a tasty first-round clash, with the Australian ranked 88th receiving a wild card entry as he recovers from hip surgery.

Safin, a crowd-pleaser around the world, insists he's playing in his final season.

Sixth seed Gilles Simon leads the French assault, heading up number 9 compatriot Gael Monfils. Richard Gasquet, a semi-finalist four years ago against Nadal, is out with a shoulder injury.