Spain’s world #1 is aiming for what would be an astonishing 11th title in Monte Carlo this year. His first challenge to overcome is Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene. Nadal, whose only outing since the Australian Open was in Davis Cup action against Germany, comes into Monte Carlo the favourite, but with question marks hanging over his game. Bedene, who has returned to representing his native Slovenia after a period of playing under the British flag, will be hoping to exploit any rustiness. But who will win?
Nadal and Bedene have met once previously in their careers in a match that interestingly was also contested at the Monte Carlo Masters in the second round two years ago. Nadal won it comfortably, 6-3 6-3 and went on to win the title. In terms of experience, Nadal has a heavy advantage, having won 30 Masters 1000 titles and 879 matches. Bedene is yet to win a Tour-level title, though he has reached three finals.
Path to the second round
Nadal, as top seed in Monte Carlo, began his tournament with a first round bye, meaning he has yet to take to the court in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. Bedene began his tournament against lucky loser Mirza Basic, who had lost in the last round of qualifying to Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets. He was again defeated without winning a set by Bedene, as the Slovenian put in a composed performance to win 6-4 7-6, finding his best tennis in the crucial moments.
How do they match up?
Central to Nadal’s dominance on clay over the years has been his peerless court coverage. At Roland Garros on Phillipe Chatrier the size of the court makes him almost impossible to hit through, but even away from Paris on smaller clay courts, Nadal makes the court seem forbiddingly small for his opponents. However, Nadal is not just a defensive player and has plenty of firepower to add to his movement, particularly off the forehand side.
The Spaniard hits the ball with an unusual amount of topspin, which is particularly effective on the red clay. The ball rears up, occasionally so high as to force opponents to hit their shots at above shoulder height. The height at contact point, combined with the spin of the ball, makes it more difficult to strike a meaningful reply against Nadal’s forehand. Nadal has also improved his backhand over the past season, turning what was already an excellent shot, into a really dangerous weapon.
Bedene, who is also most at home on the clay, having made two of his three finals on the surface, is a good mover, though not nearly as good as Nadal. He is generally a very clean ball striker. His best shots are his forehand and his serve, and he will need both to be working at their absolute best if he wants to knock Nadal off his perch. Ending the points early by going for big shots could serve him well, as it may shake Nadal early on and deny him rhythm.
Unless Bedene is able to find a higher level of performance than anything we’ve seen from him previously, this match looks like being a repeat of their 2016 clash. The Slovenian doesn’t have the weapons to hurt Nadal regularly enough nor the consistency to stay with him over the course of the match. His serve and forehand may keep him in it early, but Nadal will be able to pull away. Expect the defending champion to record a straight sets win.
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