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Djokovic: "Nadal Is The Ultimate Challenge On Clay"

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Djokovic © Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic will look to end Rafael Nadal's reign in Monte-Carlo.

Will Novak Djokovic be the man to end Rafael Nadal’s seven-year reign at the Monte-Carlo Country Club? The World No. 1 acknowledged the enormity of the task on opening Sunday at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

“The fact of the matter is that he probably plays the best tennis in Monte-Carlo, at a clay court tournament aside Paris,” said the Serbian. “He has won seven times in a row here. From a personal perspective, I think the conditions are slower than Madrid, which has altitude, Rome, Paris, so maybe that works in his favour more.

“We’ve played already here finals in 2009, good match, but Nadal is the ultimate challenge on clay. He’s the king of clay. He’s the best tennis player ever to play on this surface and one of the best tennis players ever, so that says enough.”

Nadal’s triumph last year in Monte-Carlo, however, came in Djokovic’s absence. In the two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments to follow - the Mutua Madrid Open and Internazionali BNL d’Italia - the Spaniard surrendered his titles with straight-sets losses to Djokovic in both finals.

Those two victories helped Djokovic finish ahead of Nadal in the 2011 clay-court FedEx ATP Reliability Index, with a 17-1 record (.944) to Nadal’s 28-2 mark (.933), and gave him an extra lift coming into this season’s campaign.

“Obviously knowing in 2011 I won Rome and Madrid and winning against Rafa in finals back-to-back gives me a lot of confidence for coming into the clay-court season now,” said Djokovic. He added that it “feels good” to be competing on clay for the first time since his defeat to Roger Federer in the Roland Garros semi-finals.

“It is the surface I grew up on,” he said. “In Serbia, up to last couple of years, we only had red clay. I do feel comfortable, I like to slide, and clay allows me to slide. I had a great season on clay last year so I hope to continue this year.”

Djokovic will be looking to become the first player to win back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Miami and Monte-Carlo, and stated that he was well-prepared for the transition from hard to clay courts.

“I know how to recover well, to be ready, and I’ve been working hard in my off season and [the week] that I had off after Miami to prepare for clay because clay requires physically much more from a tennis player than other surfaces,” he said. “It’s a slower surface, your endurance needs to be on a high level. You need to by physically strong to expect long matches and long rallies.”

Djokovic also joked about one added advantage that he and Andy Murray would have this week, commenting on the British No. 1’s recent buzz cut. “I tried to copy him. I didn’t go as short. Well, one thing is for sure: we’ll both be faster on the court with less hair.”

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