English playwright David Storey once eloquently stated, "self-confidence is the memory of success."
In 2012, what Rafael Nadal needs more than anything else is confidence.
How might this confidence be obtained you may be asking? The answer is winning. And not just winning over anybody on any surface but winning against Novak Djokovic on clay.
Let's take a step back. In 2011, Nadal lost two very significant matches to the relentless Serb on clay. These matches occurred in Madrid and Rome in back-to-back weeks and each were in straight sets.
To describe these results as completely shocking wouldn't be doing them justice. In the 2011 Madrid final, Djokovic recorded his first-ever victory against Nadal on clay. Before this match, Djokovic had lost their nine previous meetings on clay and in those meetings captured a mere three sets.
In retrospect, these two matches really shifted the course of 2011 and provided Djokovic with the necessary momentum against Nadal for the rest of the season.
The logic was abundantly clear for Djokovic. If he could beat Nadal on his beloved red dirt, the potential against the Spaniard was limitless. And as the rest of 2011 illustrated, Djokovic's confidence held wonderful credence as he went on to capture Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
In 2012, a hungry Nadal must seek revenge and take control of this power struggle of the elusive No. 1 ranking.
Will Nadal beat Djokovic on clay in 2012?
If Nadal is successful in the next several months on the European clay-court swing, which implies positive results against Djokovic, expect Rafa to build upon this success for the rest of the season, most notably at Wimbledon.
If Nadal is able to reach a major clay-court final and take out Djokovic, Nadal will have this demon taking the form of this longstanding losing streak against Djokovic immediately lifted from his shoulders.
Seeing that Wimbledon is only a couple of short weeks following the clay-court season, a Nadal-dominated clay-court season would seem to indicate that the Spaniard is back on the right track and is ready to make a strong push moving forward to the summer and fall.
Note that I did not say that Wimbledon is only a few weeks after the French Open. Nadal did win the French Open last year, and as we all know now, obviously was not able to fully transfer that positive momentum to the lawns of the All England Club.
Nadal needs to obtain unilateral domination over the clay-court season to give himself the best chance at Wimbledon. While I am in full recognition of the fact that these are two polar opposite surfaces and that Nadal could still theoretically win Wimbledon without winning one clay-court tournament, the chances of it happening are undoubtedly slim, to say the least.
Monte Carlo is unquestionably the most ideal location for Nadal to commence his clay-court season. Nadal winning in Monte Carlo has been as guaranteed as the sun rising.
Having taken the title the last seven seasons, look for Nadal to commence his clay-court season with a bang in the serene Monaco setting.