• Chris Wilkinson

Plenty for Murray and Co. to Master in Monte Carlo

Chris Wilkinson April 12, 2013
Rafael Nadal is back in red hot form © Getty Images

The upcoming Monte Carlo Masters marks a return to a clay surface, with defending champion Rafael Nadal looking to complete his ninth consecutive victory at the tournament. Despite the absence of world No. 3 Roger Federer, the European clay-court opener will boast a terrific field of players. However, what will prove interesting is how they cope with the transition from a hard court to clay.

There are many factors to take into account when playing on different types of court, and it can often take a couple of matches before a player successfully adapts their game between the two. Certainly, movement plays a huge factor as clay courts are much slower than hard courts. There is a lot more grip on this type of surface; players have to play with patience and it won't come as a surprise if we see them adopting a more tactical approach to their matches.

World No. 5 Nadal has won this tournament for the last eight years, notching a spectacular 42-match unbeaten streak in the process. He will no doubt take the favourite tag into Monaco. The Spaniard was brought up on clay, and since winning in Brazil, Acapulco and then Indian Wells, I believe any issues or worries he may have had regarding the return from injury will have disappeared. He is the one to watch.

However, I still believe Novak Djokovic will play despite injuring his ankle on Davis Cup duty for Serbia on Sunday. If Djokovic is fit enough for Monaco, I expect he'll feature. The world No. 1, like all the top players, is defending a lot of points, especially considering he made the final of the Monte Carlo Masters last year, where he lost out to Nadal. The Serb's first match could well be Wednesday, which leaves him plenty of time for both recovery and preparation.

Andy Murray is also in the mix to challenge Nadal for the title. Murray has held solid form of late, and his fitness levels will give him plenty of encouragement on clay. Movement will be a big factor - players tend to slide more on this surface - and the transition of Murray's court movement will be paramount if he is to challenge for victory.

Another player that I'm looking forward to seeing play in Monaco is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He is a great character and possesses a big game; it is fantastic news that he's confirmed his return to the Queen's Club for the AEGON Championships. Tennis needs big characters like Tsonga, for his attitude and approach as well as his trademark celebrations. It is a huge plus for the tournament that he will appear at Queen's because he is one of these players that, given the opportunity, can produce a big game and a big match.

His incredible quarter-final comeback against Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2011 sums up what Tsonga is all about. On his day he can do some serious damage and he always seems to play with a smile on his face. The only thing that keeps him from that top level is consistency; while he can produce a big performance, he struggles to maintain that level on a consistent basis.

What a remarkable performance from Great Britain's Davis Cup team to come back from a 2-0 deficit to defeat Russia. It was a brave decision from coach Leon Smith to introduce Dan Evans into the frame, and it paid off no end. The entire GB team can take a lot of heart from their efforts and performances.

A tough draw against Croatia in the Group play-offs now looms, but taking into account the heroics against Russia plus a possible return for Murray, there is no reason why Great Britain could not taste victory again.

Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1

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Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis. Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1, who now serves as a tennis commentator and as a coach for the LTA. He is ESPN.co.uk's resident expert, providing an exclusive view on the world of tennis.