Rafael Nadal is looking to continue his clay-court dominance over the next week as he seeks to capture the Matua Madrid Open title for a record sixth time.

Rafael Nadal Madrid Open
Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Novak Djokovic in the 2017 Madrid Open semifinals. (Image: Reuters)

Nadal has dominated the ATP Tour since returning from a hip injury he sustained during the Australian Open. The Spaniard easily won titles in both Barcelona and Monte Carlo, winning both tournaments for a record 11th time each. He has currently won 46 straight sets on clay.

Nadal Not Taking Success for Granted

Now the worlds No. 1 player will look to continue his run towards the French Open with a third straight tournament victory. But if history is any guide, Madrid could pose a few more problems for Nadal than those other events. He has only won this tournament six times, and has actually lost five times in Madrid since the tournament moved to clay courts in 2009.

Nadal himself suggested that regardless of public perception, theres no guarantee hell come out on top this week.

I dont think that I am superior to the other players [on clay courts], Nadal told reporters. Maybe some tournaments have been better than others, but that doesnt guarantee that in the future Im going to be better than my opponents.

Nadal, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, received a first round bye. Hell open with a second round match on Tuesday evening against Frenchman Gael Monfils. And while Monfils has the talent and experience to trouble any opponent, few think that he will beat Nadal this week including Monfils himself.

Im not in my best shape so thats a shame a little bit, Monfils told reporters, referring to a minor injury. I just wish I can give a great match.

Who Might Beat Nadal?

Nadal is a 1/33 favorite to get by Monfils according to Ladbrokes, so it would be a shocking result to see him go out in the second round. But there are a few players who could give Rafa a challenge in later rounds.

Dominic Thiem will see Nadal in the quarterfinals if they should both get that far, and remains the last player to beat him on clay. Juan Martin del Potro has been have a resurgence this year, and doesnt have the long history of losing to Nadal on clay that most top players do, only having met him on the surface once. And Alexander Zverev comes in at the No. 2 seed, setting up a potential final where the 21-year-old star could score a signature win against an all-time great.

If Nadal wants to hang on to his No. 1 ranking, hell need to win in Madrid and against at the French Open. Thats because he has only a 100-point lead over Roger Federer, and while Federer is skipping clay court season for the second straight year, Nadal won all these tournaments in 2017 as well meaning he must defend all of those points to retain his advantage.

Nadal is heavily favored at the French Open as well. He is currently listed at 2/5 odds to win the Grand Slam tournament by Ladbrokes, far ahead of rivals like Thiem (8/1), Novak Djokovic (8/1), and Del Potro (14/1).

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