The European clay court season has arrived, and you know what that means: Here comes a surging and determined Rafael Nadal.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion has not only won 46 straight singles matches at this weekend's event, the Monte Carlo Masters, but he's won eight straight titles there and three consecutive matchups overall against his opponent in Sunday's final, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Therefore, tennis fans can expect Nadal to cruise to an impressive ninth straight Monte Carlo championship this weekend in France.
After losing seven straight tournament finals to his Serbian rival, Rafa has figured out Djokovic on clay, winning three straight matches and seven-of-eight sets against him on the slower-playing surface, dating back to last year's Monte Carlo Masters.
Nadal took out Djokovic in straight sets in Monte Carlo and Rome in 2012 and last beat him in the final at the 2012 French Open, a comfortable four-set victory at Roland Garros.
Nadal is 19-14 all time against Djokovic and 12-2 against him on clay.
If Nadal's handful of streaks isn't enough to make him the favorite in Sunday's final, the simple fact that it's been 10 years since he lost a singles match at Monte Carlo certainly is.
As a bonus, he's only dropped three sets in Monte Carlo over the past six years.
More recently, since returning from a seven-month layoff to rest his sore knees, the king of clay has been a match-winning machine. Nadal is 21-1 in 2013 and will have four singles titles on the season if he can pick up a win over Djokovic at the Monte Carlo Country Club this weekend.
The 26-year-old Spaniard's dominance shouldn't come as much of a shock, however.
The decision to make his return on his favorite surface, clay, was clearly the right one. Not only has Nadal been winning at an incredible rate, but his confidence is soaring as he gets set for next month's French Open in Paris.
That is why the massive ball of momentum that is Rafael Nadal on clay will be too much for Djokovic to overcome in Sunday's final.
This is nothing new.
The European clay court season is Rafa's time of year; it belongs to him and has for nearly the past decade.
You can toss out the rankings and forget about the draw come mid-April, because Nadal is back home on the clay, rallying and hustling to every ball until he breaks his opponent's serve and, finally, his will.
At any other time of year on any other surface, Sunday's final would have tremendous potential. But at Monte Carlo, it's almost a foregone conclusion that Nadal will come away with his 23rd Masters title.
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