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Nadal Begins "Favourite Part" Of Season

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal will attempt to reclaim the Monte-Carlo title this week.

“It’s my favourite part of the season,” said World No. 1 Rafael Nadal on the opening day of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the first tournament of the European spring clay-court swing.

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Nadal has made himself at home at his stops during this eight-week stretch, which includes three ATP World Tour Masters 1000s and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell before culminating at Roland Garros. Beginning with his first Monte-Carlo crown in 2005, he has won 34 titles during the European spring swing - an impressive collection highlighted by eight titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Paris, in addition to seven in Rome.

“In the last eight to nine years I had positive results here and I was able to win a lot of matches and compete for the best tournaments of this clay-court season,” said the 27-year-old Spaniard. “That makes the situation a little special for me every time I come back to these tournaments because they are tournaments where I really feel I have great memories and I enjoy. All the tournaments I’m going to play in this next month-and-a-half, I love it. I feel comfortable in every city, in every tournament.”

This year, the swing has extra significance. Nadal is nearing a couple of clay-court milestones - currently two match wins shy of 300 and three titles back of Guillermo Vilas’s Open Era record of 46 - and is also looking to maintain his hold on the No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking with Novak Djokovic nipping at his heels.

Though Nadal shared Sunday that he “did more than my goal” through the first quarter of 2014, he holds a 2,000-point lead over Djokovic in the Emirates ATP Rankings with 5,100 points to defend over the clay-court swing. “This is an important time of the season for everybody,” acknowledged the Spaniard. “Three Masters 1000, one Grand Slam and one 500. There’s a lot of points in the period of [two months].”

While Djokovic has 3,000 fewer points to defend over that stretch, Nadal has the opportunity to cushion his current lead this week in Monte-Carlo following his loss to his Serbian rival in last year’s final. The defeat ended his unprecedented eight-year reign at this Masters 1000 tournament.

“For everybody there’s a start and for everybody there’s an end,” reflected Nadal. “He played great. The first set he played unbelievable. A lot of rallies, a lot of hard points he won. In the second set I was in right position to win the set and I didn’t. I’m playing against one of the best players in history. You can win and you can lose.”

Nadal was also beaten by Djokovic in back-to-back clay-court finals three years ago in Madrid and Rome, and emphasised that he was not invincible during the swing, despite his immense success in the past.

“Every year is completely different,” he said. “The only thing that I really know is the only way to have chances to compete well is to respect 100 per cent every opponent… When competition arrives, play with the right motivation, with the right [humility]. Every point is important.”

Nadal begins his Monte-Carlo campaign against the winner between Frenchman Gilles Simon and Russian qualifier Teymuraz Gabashvili.

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