Novak Djokovic believes he has hit the reset button on his season at exactly the right moment as the world No. 2 enters the Monte Carlo Masters eager to begin his title defense.
The Serb, who is based in the principality, ended Rafael Nadal’s eight-year title streak a year ago, although the Spaniard then went on to defend his French Open crown.
Djokovic said he was bolstered by his back-to-back Masters trophies from the US last month as he beat Roger Federer in Indian Wells and topped Nadal for a third straight match to win Miami honors.
“I’m excited to be defending, but I don’t change the way that I approach any event,” said the second seed, who has coach Boris Becker back in his corner after the German’s recent hip surgery.
“My state of mind right now is all that I had hoped for, I do have confidence, especially after a slow start to this season. Going onto the clay always feels like a new beginning, it will be very important to start well, hopefully with another win, but then again, with the level of competition out there, no one can predict anything,” he added.
Djokovic enters the competition at the Monte Carlo Country Club riding a 10-match win streak after completing the Indian Wells-Miami double for the first time in his career. He stands 20-6 in Monte Carlo and is seeking to become the fifth player to successfully defend his crown in Monte Carlo after Bjorn Borg (1980), Thomas Muster (1996), Juan Carlos Ferrero (2003) and Nadal (from 2006 to 2012).
Top seed Nadal is trying to keep the pressure on himself as low as reasonably possible.
Spain’s world No. 1 said that he goes into his most potent period of the year unsure of anything except the fact that nothing will be easy.
The 27-year-old said on Sunday that the last time he played truly well on the surface he loves was last year’s Roland Garros final, when he won the Grand Slam title for an eighth time.
“This is an important part of the season for everyone, not just me,” the Spaniard said. “I don’t automatically switch from hardcourt to clay, I need time to make the adjustment. I only play on clay for five — maximum six — tournaments per year, I need time to adapt.”
Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka takes the third seeding, with the Australian Open winner over Nadal eager to show that he can hang with the elite and live up to his ranking.
Roger Federer, the fourth seed and a late wild-card entry, arrived in Monaco on Sunday to compete in Monte Carlo for the first time since 2011, when he lost in the quarter-finals to Jurgen Melzer.
First-round play got underway on Sunday, with 17th seed Alexandr Dolgopolov beating Latvian Ernests Gulbis, 6-2, 6-4, while Jeremy Chardy beat Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands 1-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7/5).
Also, Russian Dmitry Tursunov defeated the Netherlands’ Robin Haase 6-1, 5-7, 6-3 and Austrian youngster Dominic Thiem went down to Nicolas Mahut, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
CLAY COURT CHAMPIONSHIP
AFP, HOUSTON, Texas
Fourth seed Fernando Verdasco defeated Nicolas Almagro in an all-Spanish showdown to snap a six-match finals losing streak and claim the US Men’s Clay Court Championship title on Sunday.
Former world number seven Verdasco earned his first title since 2010 with a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) victory at the River Oaks Country Club in Houston, Texas.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve won a singles title,” Verdasco said. “It’s a very important day for me to win a tournament after a few years and after the injury in my knee the last couple years.”
Verdasco hammered four aces and saved six of seven break point chances in the match that lasted one hour, 52 minutes.
Verdasco has won seven of 10 career meetings with Almagro.
“I am so tired I don’t know if I can talk so much,” said Verdasco, who also reached the doubles final in Casablanca.
Almagro made Verdasco work for the victory as he hit eight aces, won 72 percent of his first serve points and saved seven of nine break points.
It marked the second year in a row Almagro finished runner-up in Houston, losing last year to John Isner.
Almagro was handed a free pass into the final when the US’ Sam Querrey was cut down by a back injury in the semi-finals.
“He played a really good match today, and he’s the winner,” Almagro said of Verdasco. “It was a battle today, and he really concentrated on his serve. I had many chances and I didn’t [take them] and that’s the key of the match.”
GRAND PRIX HASSAN II
AP, CASABLANCA, Morocco
Eighth-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez won his first title in nearly four years after rallying to beat fourth seed Marcel Granollers 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in an all-Spanish final on clay at the Grand Prix Hassan II on Sunday.
The 30-year-old Garcia-Lopez’s previous title was on indoor hard courts in Bangkok in 2010 and he had lost his previous two finals — last year on clay at Bucharest and on indoor hard courts in St Petersburg, Russia.
Granollers, who was bidding for his fifth career title, dropped his serve five times and was less consistent in Casablanca, Morocco.
The 28-year-old won only 60 percent of first-serve points, compared with 76 percent for Garcia-Lopez, who won their only previous meeting in the second round of the same tournament in 2010.
Garcia-Lopez continued the recent dominance of his countrymen at the tournament, becoming the fourth Spaniard to take the title over the past six years after Tommy Robredo won it last year, Pablo Andujar in 2011 and 2012, and former French Open champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2009.