Rafael Nadal: Will He Win His Eighth Straight Monte Carlo Masters?

Kevin Pacelli@kjp0205Correspondent IApril 20, 2012

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 19:  Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand in his match against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan during day five of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters on April 19, 2012 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

Using the term "domination" is practically an understatement when discussing Rafael Nadal's performances in Monte Carlo over the past eight seasons. He has won the past seven Rolex Masters titles, and with his quarterfinal victory over Stanislas Wawrinka, his match streak in Monte Carlo has extended to 40.

Does Rafa have what it takes to bring home the trophy for the eighth consecutive year? While his odds still look good, it may not be so easy this time around.

Nadal is set to play Gilles Simon in the semifinals on Saturday, and although the World No. 15 is a worthy opponent, he will most likely prove to be no obstacle for the long-time king of clay. On the other side of the draw, Novak Djokovic will take on World No. 7 Tomas Berdych in a match that he should be able to cruise through.

Assuming that these scenarios occur, the stage will be set for yet another awesome match between Nadal and the Djoker. Unfortunately for Rafa and his fans, the only streak perhaps more impressive than the Spaniard's in Monte Carlo is the Serb's string of seven consecutive wins over his rival.

If this battle were being set up in 2011, a strong majority of tennis fans would argue that Djokovic has no shot at beating Nadal on the clay courts. However, we now know from experience that it is entirely possible and likely.

As incredible as the first part of Djokovic's 2011 season was, its impressiveness peaked with his two victories over Nadal in the Madrid and Rome finals, both of which took place on clay. At that point it became clear that Rafa was no longer the uncontested ruler of the surface.

Luckily for Nadal, he did not need to face Djokovic at the 2011 French Open because Roger Federer was able to deal the Serb his first loss of the year in the semifinals. That may not be so advantageous in hindsight, though. Since he couldn't squash the Djokovic clay threat at Roland Garros, it is still very prevalent now.

In no way will it be a walk in the park for the Djoker, though. His play so far in 2012, although exemplary, doesn't compare to what he exhibited last year. At this point in 2011, the Serb was still undefeated; he has already lost two matches this season (Andy Murray in Dubai semifinals, John Isner in Indian Wells semifinals).

Let's not forget the Australian Open final of this past January between the World No. 1 and 2, where Djokovic just barely came out on top in one of history's most competitive matches.

As shaken as his mental game may have been last year, Nadal isn't showing any signs of letting up on his favorite surface in 2012. Through the Monte Carlo quarterfinals, he has yet to drop a set and is just as impressive as always to watch.

Which streak will be the one to continue with the conclusion of this year's Monte Carlo Masters? Will Djokovic beat Rafa for an eighth straight time, or will the Spaniard once again sit in the Rolex Masters throne, where he has been comfortable for the past seven years?

Assuming that the two meet in the finals, it will undoubtedly be a match to watch and remember.

The Verdict: Novak Djokovic will remain superior over Rafa Nadal by beating him in three sets and taking the 2012 Monte Carlo title.