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Nadal, Djokovic, Federer Headline Star-Studded Line-up

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Djokovic© RealisNovak Djokovic is aiming to retain his Monte-Carlo crown.

The first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournament of the year gets underway on Sunday in Monte-Carlo, with World No. 1 Rafael Nadal looking to win the title for a record ninth time, having been dethroned after eight successive victories last year by Novak Djokovic.

Defending champion Djokovic is bidding to win his fifth ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in a row, having closed 2013 with victories in Shanghai and Paris, and completed the Indian Wells-Miami double for the second time in his career last month. The European clay-court swing could prove pivotal for the Serb in his bid to reclaim the World No. 1 mantle in the Emirates ATP Rankings from Nadal.

Read: Djokovic Turning Up The Heat

In 34 of the past 36 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, the title has been won by one of the Big Four (Nadal, Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray). The only exceptions have been at the BNP Paribas Masters in 2010 (Robin Soderling) and 2012 (David Ferrer). Murray is not competing this week at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, but Federer is set to play for the first time since 2011. The Swiss, a three-time runner-up at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, is vying for his 22nd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown.

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Top seed Nadal is due to open his campaign against either Gilles Simon or a qualifier. The Spaniard, who has a staggering 48-2 tournament record, is projected to meet 13th seed Mikhail Youzhny in the third round and could face either sixth seed David Ferrer or 12th seed Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.

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Stanislas Wawrinka, the man who beat Nadal in the Australian Open final to claim his first major championship in January, is in the same half as the Mallorcan. The third-seeded Wawrinka has a tricky opener against the winner of a first-round clash between Marin Cilic, who has won two titles this season, and 2010 runner-up Fernando Verdasco. The Swiss is seeded to face Nicolas Almagro in the third round and could meet eighth seed Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals.

Djokovic and Federer are on a semi-final collision course in the bottom half of the draw. The pair has met twice already this year, with Federer winning in the Dubai semi-finals and Djokovic prevailing in the Indian Wells final.

The 26-year-old Djokovic, who attended the draw ceremony with coach Boris Becker at the Salle Garnier Opéra de Monte-Carlo, faces Benoit Paire or a qualifier in the second round and potentially Kevin Anderson or Gael Monfils in the third round. In a testing quarter of the draw, Djokovic could come up against Tomas Berdych, Alexandr Dolgopolov or Ernests Gulbis in the quarter-finals.

Federer, the fourth seed, takes on Radek Stepanek or Ivo Karlovic in his opener and is projected to face No. 16 seed Jerzy Janowicz in the third round. Ninth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and 10th seed Fabio Fognini are potential quarter-final opponents for the Swiss.

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