Monte Carlo Masters 2013: Biggest Threats to 8-Time Champion Rafael Nadal

Patrick Clarke@@_Pat_ClarkeCorrespondent IApril 17, 2013

MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - APRIL 16:  Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France plays a forehand against Nikolay Davydenko of Russia in their second round match during day three of the ATP Monte Carlo Masters,at Monte-Carlo Sporting Club on April 16, 2013 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Clay-court wizard Rafael Nadal has dominated on the crunchy, slippery surface over the years, but perhaps nowhere quite like Monte Carlo, where the Spanish tennis legend has won a record eight consecutive titles.

Since 2005, no other men's player has hoisted the trophy at Monte Carlo Country Club, and barring a heroic effort from one of the sport's top players this April, that trend is set to continue.

Here, we'll break down the biggest threats to Nadal this week at the 2013 ATP Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Novak Djokovic (1)

If Novak Djokovic's ankle can respond the way he hopes this week in Monte Carlo, the 25-year-old Serb will have the best shot to dethrone Nadal in France.

Djokovic lost in straight sets to Nadal in the final at this tournament a year ago but took the king of clay to three sets in the 2009 final. Plus, Djokovic is one of the few players in history to have beaten Nadal on his favorite surface; he is 2-3 against Rafa in their last five meetings on clay dating back to 2011.

When on top of his game, the current world No. 1 is almost unbeatable, whatever the circumstances, whatever the surface.

Although Djokovic's level of play depends on his healthspecifically his injured ankleeven if he suits up at less than 100 percent, he'll be the biggest threat to Nadal in Monte Carlo given his relentless style of play.

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (6)

Often overshadowed by the Big Four, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has all the ability to hang with and defeat the world's top players. 

The 27-year-old isn't known for his strengths on clay but has improved on the surface over the years, reaching the quarterfinals of the French Open last year. He lost to Gilles Simon in the quarters at Monte Carlo in 2012 but looks poised to meet up with Nadal in the semifinals this year, assuming he can overcome second-seeded Andy Murray in the quarters.

Murray is the better player of the two, having won six straight against the Frenchman, but his lackluster showing on clay over the years makes him a slight underdog against Tsonga in my view.

Murray can sometimes look uncomfortable on the slower playing surface, while Tsonga will be right at home playing in his native France.

Philipp Kohlschreiber (16)

A loss of any kind, no matter who it comes against, would be considered an upset for Nadal at Monte Carlo. However, there's the potential for a major upset in the round of 16 against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber. 

The 16th-seeded player in the men's draw is already through to the third round and will take on Nadal soon if the 26-year-old can win his second-round match.

While Kohlschreiber has never defeated Nadal on clay (0-4 all time) he did recently defeat the Spaniard in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Gerry Weber Open on grass. The experienced 29-year-old Kohlschreiber took that match in straight sets, ending a nine-match losing streak to Nadal.

With three-time Monte Carlo runner-up Roger Federer and 2011 runner-up David Ferrer absent from this April's Masters 1000 event, Nadal is an overwhelming favorite to win his ninth straight title along the Mediterranean in 2013.

It'll be up to Djokovic, Tsonga and Kohlschreiber to stop him.

*Click here to view the entire 2013 Monte Carlo Masters men's draw courtesy of Monte-CarloRolexMasters.com.

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