Yes, we know Novak Djokovic was not at his best in Sunday's Final of the Masters 1000 Event in Monte Carlo. We also know that Rafael Nadal has ruled Monte Carlo for eight consecutive years. Even with all this said, Rafael Nadal's convincing victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo was as important a victory Nadal has had in months. The Serb had beaten Nadal in 7 straight Finals, 3 of them Majors. The Serb had made Nadal look more like an average player than one of the greatest players ever to play tennis. While Sunday's victory in Monte Carlo was undoubtedly Nadal's first dose of revenge, it meant even more than that. The Spainard, deemed the "King of Clay," made public comments showing his uncertainty about how his knee would hold up throughout the clay-court season. He was not his usual confident self entering a season which he has dominated for several years. While this was not totally unexpected due to his recent struggles against Djokovic, it just did not seem right. Rafael Nadal did his best to restore order on his favorite surface on Sunday. At the same time, he started to gain a little more confidence in himself when he sees a certain Serbian man on the other side of the net.
As for the World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, there is no real reason to be concerned. The sudden death of his grandfather definitely played a role in his play throughout the week in Monte Carlo, as expected. It was an accomplishment for the Serb to even advance to the final, where he simply ran into a more focused player. A few weeks off will help Djokovic settle down and regain his confidence heading into Madrid, Rome, and the French Open. He still has to be very confident against Nadal, which will do him well if they happen to meet in any of the next three important events. Once Djokovic is in a more stable emotional state and is back on top of his game, there will be a lot for him to improve on in matches against Nadal. The Spainard did a great job on Sunday of keeping the majority of his groundstrokes, especially his backhand, deep in the court. It will be up to Djokovic to be able to move Nadal around the court and eventually take advanatge of any shots that fall inside the service line. The serve will also need to be more of a factor for the World No. 1 if he expects to challenge Rafa on clay against this year.
While Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are the two players to watch entering Rome, Madrid, and the French Open, it will be worth keeping an eye on Roger Federer. Federer, who was just passed by Nadal for No. 1 on the most Masters 1000 victories, will be rested and ready for the most imporatn month of the clay-court swing. He has played great tennis since the 2011 US Open, and it will be interesting to see whether he can make it past either Djokovic or Nadal en route to a Major Final, where he is always dangerous. While most tennis fans also expect Andy Murray to be around late in tournaments, there is little hope for him to finally breakthough at a Major. While there is a good chance he will reach the plateau one day, it will not happen in Roland Garros in 2012. It will be a great month or so of tennis on the ATP Tour, so be sure to pay attention to the happenings around the world week after week.