Few will predict a similar result this time around but there's no doubt that Djokovic would have preferred to play someone else in his first competitive match of 2019 on clay. Eleven times the champion in Monte Carlo, he also will be going for title No. 12 in Barcelona next week and title No. 12 in the French Open at Roland-Garros next month - numbers that hardly seem possible, especially when said out loud. Should he win one of this year's three clay-court Masters 1000 events, where Nadal will also be present, the psychological boost could be crucial for Djokovic.
But the Serbian resides in the Principality, so playing the first clay-court Masters 1000 tournament at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, where he trains when home, is nearly like a home-court advantage. Djokovic hammered Nadal in the Australian Open final in January, and the mental battle between the two over the next few weeks promises to be fascinating.
The top-ranked Djokovic has won the past three majors in straight sets, including a stunning rout of Nadal in the Australian Open final this year. "But at the same time it is what it is and as I said I'll try to look on the positive side", Djokovic said.
Kohlschreiber beat Djokovic in Indian Wells a month ago and the pair have been drawn to face each other again this afternoon.
"It's gonna be interesting to see how the younger guys will do, all of them work hard, play well, sometimes it's a little bit about timing", said Zverev. He's won all the big ones. Definitely, for our sport, it's better that he plays.
"I think Rafa is always a very clear favorite on any clay court in the world, and it doesn't change - he's still there", Djokovic said. "And I had an wonderful start this year". "He's still there. I mean (it) obviously depends how he's feeling physically. That can serve only as an incentive, so to say, or confidence boost prior to clay season".
"I don't see any particular issues for him on this (slow) surface". "Winning a clay tournament is a big goal for me this year", said the two-time champion in Barcelona, Nadal's home event". "He won the last three slams in a row, which is fantastic, and I think he also has in his mind that he can beat Rafa anywhere". "I really, aside of maybe one year where he changed a racquet and dropped to I think No., whatever, 7, 8, and then he was injured for five, six months, dropped his ranking to out of 15, those maybe two times in the last 15 years have been maybe where I saw him play 10, 20% worse than he's playing on the level that he's playing on all the time", Djokovic continued.