Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2021 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

Welcome to the clay court portion of this 2021 tennis season—or, as it’s known informally, the time when Rafael Nadal shines.

You have to have lived under a rock, or simply not have been a tennis fan whatsoever, not to understand that the Spaniard is the best player in the world (and in the sport’s history) on clay courts. In men’s tennis, the clay court is Nadal’s kingdom and everyone else is mere peasants.

But were not here to rehash the same old things we’ve written about, and you’ve read about, so many times about Nadal on clay. There’s only so many times we can praise someone without it being redundant; excellence has but a name, and on clay its name is Nadal. That will suffice for today.

But what we are here to do is to discuss another member of the Nadal clan.

Uncle Toni has a new student

Just before the launch of the 2021 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime announced that “Uncle” Toni Nadal was to join his team. Already with Frederic Fontang, FAA is now adding a man with quite the resume to his group. “I told myself that it would be good to go to somebody who has been at the highest level of our sport,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Someone who has been to where I want to go one day.”

Mission accomplished on that front.

Are they a good fit?

We will get back to this at a later time but for now, we can say that we love the fit on both sides.

For Toni, it’s a chance to expand and build upon his stellar resume. He gets to work with a young talent who seemingly has no real weaknesses and wants nothing more than to reach the mountaintop. For Auger-Aliassime, it’s the occasion to drink from the Nadal fountain of clay and perhaps approximate some of the results of Uncle Toni’s most famous student (and nephew).

The best thing about it? We get to see the partnership right away this week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters 1000. Speaking of, let’s run through our predictions for how this main draw might unfold.

Monte-Carlo predictions

Main draw

On the top section of the draw lies Novak Djokovic and, like, maybe you want to get cute and say that a Hubert Hurkacz could take the Serb on. But let’s not get reckless. Djokovic will be fine. The real meat of the draw is probably the second section, where we can see just about five different individuals emerging to face Djokovic in the semifinal. But above all, we’re mostly eager to see if Aslan “Demigod” Karatsev’s results will suffer now that we’ve moved to clay.

We don’t know that we’ll ever get used to seeing Rafael Nadal as a three-seed, but make no mistake. He’s the man to beat, here in Monte-Carlo as well as just about anywhere else they play tennis on the red clay. Finally, the fourth section could be the most surprising of the four as the favourite Daniil Medvedev isn’t at his strongest on the playing surface. On the bright side, we anticipate a rematch of the 2019 Monte-Carlo semifinal between Nadal and Fabio Fognini.

It won’t be nearly as competitive now as it was then.

Quarterfinals: Novak Djokovic over Alexander Zverev; Matteo Berrettini over Felix Auger-Aliassime; Rafael Nadal over Roberto Bautista Agut; Fabio Fognini over Diego Schwartzman

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic over Matteo Berrettini; Rafael Nadal over Fabio Fognini

Final: Rafael Nadal over Novak Djokovic

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG



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