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Rafael Nadal Opens In Style @ ATP Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters • Djokovic and Thiem Set For Third-Round Battle

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball to Aljaz Bedene of Slovakia during their second round match at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tournament in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, 18 April 2018. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER



By Ricky Dimon


Rafael Nadal began his campaign for an 11th Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title when he made quick 6-1, 6-3 work of Aljaz Bedene in the second round on Wednesday. Nadal improved to 64-4 lifetime in the principality after one hour and 18 minutes.


The world No. 1 surged to a 3-0 lead in the opening set and never looked back. He ran into his only trouble on serve all afternoon at 3-1, when he saved two break points. Aside from that aberration, Bedene did not even push Nadal to deuce on any other occasion with the Spaniard serving.


Next up for the 16-time Grand Slam champion is Karen Khachanov, but that won’t be Thursday’s marquee matchup. That distinction, of course, goes to Novak Djokovic vs. Dominic Thiem.


Djokovic set up that showdown by beating Borna Coric 7-6(2), 7-5 on Wednesday. The Serb needed 10 match points over the last four games to stumble across the finish line, which he did after more than two hours of play. Coric did well to hold serve at 3-5 and recover a break at 4-5, but the Croat promptly donated serve in the ensuing game and Djokovic delivered a routine hold at 6-5.


“I started the match very well, 4-1 up,” the former world No. 1 assessed. “He started playing better. He started making less mistakes. I played a very good (first-set) tiebreak and started off very well again (in the second). God knows how many advantages (I had at 5-4). I’m really happy with the way I stayed focused. I haven’t played too many matches in the last 10 months and obviously I’m still lacking that match play. You can see that.


“[Thiem] is one of the best players in the world in general,” Djokovic assured. “Probably top three on this surface. He loves playing on clay. He got out of trouble, as well, yesterday from match point down…. Hopefully I can have another great match tomorrow.”


Thiem and Djokovic will be facing each other for the seventh time in their careers. Although Djokovic is leading the head-to-head series 5-1, Thiem dominated their most recent meeting 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-0 in the 2017 French Open quarterfinals. Due to injury, Djokovic has not been the same since. He did not play after Wimbledon in 2017 and he is a mere 5-3 this season, which explains his dip to No. 13 in the rankings.


Also one of Nadal’s chief clay-court challengers when healthy, Thiem suffered a knee injury at in Indian Wells Masters and missed Miami. Now on his favorite surface, the Austrian fought off a stern test from Andrey Rublev on Tuesday and saved one match point in a 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 victory.


Nadal, meanwhile, is 2-0 lifetime against Khachanov. The underdog Russian lost 6-1, 6-4, 7-6(3) last summer at Wimbledon and 6-3, 6-3 a few months later in Beijing.


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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