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ATP • Tennis • Novak Djokovic Back in action in Monte-Carlo • RAFAEL Nadal Begins Title Defense Against Bedene

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during his quarter final match against Marin Cilic of Croatia at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 23 January 2018. EPA-EFE/MAST IRHAM



By Ricky Dimon


Second-round action at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters will wrap up on Wednesday, when Novak Djokovic returns to the court and Rafael Nadal begins his first tournament since the Australian Open. Djokovic is going up against Borna Coric, while Nadal is facing Aljaz Bedene. Kei Nishikori and Daniil Medvedev are also part of a jam-packed schedule.


Ricky previews three of the more intriguing second-round matches and makes his predictions.


(9) Novak Djokovic vs. Borna Coric

Djokovic and Coric will be squaring off for the second time in their careers on Wednesday. Their only previous encounter came in the second round of a different clay-court Masters tournament (Madrid) in 2016, when Djokovic prevailed 6-2, 6-4. The 30-year-old may be more vulnerable now, having contested only three events since Wimbledon last summer. Recovering from serious elbow problems, the Serb–who is down to 13th in the rankings–fell to Hyeon Chung in the Aussie Open fourth round and lost his openers in both Indian Wells (to Taro Daniel) and Miami (to Benoit Paire). Perhaps healthier now, Djokovic raised his level to crush countryman Dusan Lajovic 6-0, 6-1 on Monday.


Coric boasts an impressive 15-6 record this season thanks in part to a back-to-back run in Indian Wells (semifinals) and Miami (quarters). The 21-year-old Croat, who also reached the last eight in Doha and Dubai, is in contention for Roland Garros seeding at No. 39 in the world. Coric will have to be productive over the next few weeks in order to snag a seed, and that effort got off to a strong start when he made quick 6-2, 6-3 work of Julien Benneteau in the Monte-Carlo first round.

Prediction: Coric in 3


(1) Rafael Nadal vs. Aljaz Bedene

Nadal is playing in a tournament for the first time since the Australian Open, but there are no questions regarding his status as the overwhelming favorite in Monte-Carlo. After all, the Spaniard already has two clay-court matches–and two dominant ones–under his belt heading into Monte-Carlo. In the Davis Cup quarterfinals against Germany in Valencia, Nadal helped the host nation advance by clobbering both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev in easy straight sets. Now it is on to Monte-Carlo, where Nadal is a 10-time champion and owner of an overwhelming 63-4 lifetime record.


Up first for Nadal is a second career showdown against Bedene, who lost their only previous meeting 6-3, 6-3 in the same round of this same tournament two years ago. The underdog Slovenian gets another shot at the world No. 1–as if that’s a good thing–by virtue of his 6-4, 7-6(3) win over lucky loser Mirza Basic. Bedene is a solid 12-6 this year with a runner-up performance in Buenos Aires and a quarterfinal showing in Rio de Janeiro. His draw this week does not set up well for similar run.

Prediction: Nadal in 2


Daniil Medvedev vs. Kei Nishikori

Not unlike that of Djokovic, Nishikori’s 2018 comeback is off to a slow start but may be picking up steam in Monte-Carlo. The 28-year-old from Japan erased an early deficit in his first-round match to defeat Tomas Berdych 4-6, 6-2, 6-1. That result marked Nishikori’s fifth match victory of the season, a meager number that can explain in part why he is registering down at No. 36 in the world (primarily because of a wrist injury). He previously suffered early losses in Acapulco (first round against Denis Shapovalov) and at the Miami Open (second match against Juan Martin Del Potro).


Up next for the former world No. 4 is a first-ever encounter against Medvedev, who just barely scraped past Marton Fucsovics 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-5 in his opener. The 22-year-old Russian is well on his way to a breakout season, with a stellar13-5 record that includes his maiden ATP title in Sydney and has him up to No. 49 in the rankings. But Medvedev is not best-suited for clay, he needed two hours and 45 minutes against Fucsovics, and Nishikori looked like the Nishikori of old in the latter stages of his victory over Berdych.

Prediction: Nishikori in 2


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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