Preview: Monte Carlo Masters

Rafael Nadal
© PA Photos
Sports Mole previews the upcoming Monte Carlo Masters as the European clay-court season gets underway.

The European clay-court season gets underway on Sunday as the third Masters 1000 event of the year takes place among the glamour of Monte Carlo.

There are already two big-name absentees in the form of Roger Federer and David Ferrer, while world number one Novak Djokovic could be forced to miss out with an ankle injury.

However, the tournament still boasts plenty of stellar performers such as Andy Murray, Juan Martin del Potro and defending champion Rafael Nadal.

The Spaniard, who is gunning for a ninth consecutive title, is expected to be the centre of attention in Monaco as he competes on his favourite surface for the first time since last year's French Open.

Here, Sports Mole takes a look at some of the contenders to be crowned champion.

Novak Djokovic:

Big doubts remain over the world number one's participation after he injured his ankle while on Davis Cup duty for Serbia against the USA last weekend. If he decides to play then Djokovic will be aiming to triumph for the first time in Monte Carlo. Of all the non-clay specialists he has won an impressive seven titles on the surface, but it is dislodging Rafael Nadal from his dirt throne in Europe that still remains a burning ambition for Djokovic.

Andy Murray:

The Brit could well be the top seed in Monte Carlo if Novak Djokovic chooses to protect his injured ankle. Murray will be feeling confident following last month's win in Miami - his second title of the year - but he knows that he needs to improve on clay if he is to win his first trophy on the surface. The newly-crowned world number two will also be keen to erase the memory of last year's three-set whitewash by Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.

Rafael Nadal:

The King of Clay returns to his favourite surface for the first time since the French Open looking for a ninth consecutive title in Monte Carlo. It hasn't been a bad comeback from injury so far: the Spaniard has won three tournaments on the bounce, the last of which was an emotional three-set triumph over Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells last month. Despite the occasional doubt over his fitness, anything other than an appearance in the final will be considered a failure, such is his legacy on clay.

Tomas Berdych:

Despite failing to pick up a title in the first four months of the season, world number six Berdych has reached the final of two tournaments and has reached the quarter-finals or better in a further four. The Czech has pedigree on clay, winning two titles during his career, and he has the ability to get in the faces of the big boys on his day.

Juan Martin del Potro:

The lofty Argentine has been a handed a wildcard entry this year for a tournament that he has only entered twice before. While he thrives on hard surfaces, Del Potro also knows how to mix it up on clay - he has won four of his 14 ATP titles on the dirt. A decent start to the year which saw him triumph in Rotterdam took a detour last time out with a second-round defeat in Miami, but he may well fancy his chances in Monte Carlo due to the weakened field.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga:

Tsonga is likely to need a large slice of luck as well as some otherworldly inspiration if he is to makes waves in Monte Carlo this year. On his weakest surface the Frenchman has lost 38% of his career matches - a performance history that sees him lie 20th in the clay rankings. Add to that his recent fourth-round defeat at the Miami Masters and Tsonga needs an upturn in fortunes.

Juan Martin del Potro
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ATP RankingsPoints
1Scotland flag Andy Murray7,750
2Spain Rafael Nadal7,555
3Switzerland Roger Federer7,145
4Switzerland Stanislas Wawrinka5,780
5Serbia Novak Djokovic5,325
6Croatia Marin Cilic5,155
7Alexander Zverev4,470
8Austria Dominic Thiem4,030
9Japan Kei Nishikori3,285
10Canada Milos Raonic3,230
11Bulgaria Grigor Dimitrov3,070
12France Jo-Wilfried Tsonga2,770
13Belgium David Goffin2,560
14Spain Roberto Bautista Agut2,425
15Czech Republic Tomas Berdych2,390
16United States Jack Sock2,335
17Pablo Carreno Busta2,305
18Lucas Pouille2,220
19United States John Isner2,110
20United States Sam Querrey2,060