In Monte-Carlo, the return of the scarecrows

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Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played in the Australian Open injured. The first had back pain. The second suffered from an abdominal tear. But the 34-year-old Spaniard made it to the quarter-finals of the tournament, and the 33-year-old Serbian won it. So when, one after the other, they announce at the opening of the Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo that they feel in great shape, the competition has cause for concern. The start of the clay season marks the return of the scarecrows.

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“I am confident, warned Rafael Nadal. It’s an important part of the season for me that begins. I think I did a good job getting ready. I’m happy with the way I’m playing and my body is doing well now. ” The playful and relaxed air of the Majorcan in the principality contrasts with the drawn features under which he had made his last appearances in Melbourne in February. He has not played in competition since.

Neither does Novak Djokovic. And he’s hungry. “Mentally I’ve missed tennis for the past two months. So I can’t wait to play my first match, ”he said, further declaring himself“ physically ready ”for a tournament he has already won twice, in 2013 and 2015.

In search of records

But clay, of course, remains the territory of his rival, who begins a decisive campaign there. In June, he will aim for a 14th title at Roland Garros which would make him the only holder of the record for major trophies (21). In the meantime, the next few weeks will follow one another with tournaments that he particularly enjoys. He won 11 times in Monte-Carlo, 11 times in Barcelona, ​​five times in Madrid and nine times in Rome – in each case a record. Suddenly, he insists, the important thing for him is not to get hurt. “If I get there in the next month and a half, I think I have a chance to play at a high level.”

If he were to face Novak Djokovic, it would be in the final. On the other hand, he will not meet Roger Federer, who preferred to postpone his return but is expected at the Masters 1000 in Madrid, nor Dominic Thiem (double finalist at Roland Garros), also absent.

Under these conditions, who to worry the two scarecrows? Daniil Medvedev, world number 2, has never been particularly tough on clay. So perhaps we should look for Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Felix Auger-Aliassime. Hey: the 20-year-old Canadian has just integrated into his staff a certain Toni Nadal, whose uncle you know. Mistrust, mistrust.