Monte Carlo Masters preview and prediction: Clay court season begins in earnest

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Novak Djokovic came surging back to form at the Monte Carlo Masters, and then played down suggestions that he and now former coach Andre Agassi had fallen out.

The other quarter boasts a clutch of men who could make the final: Lucas Pouille (one title from three finals this year, two clay wins in Davis Cup against Italy, and semi-finalist in Monaco last year), Diego Schwartzman (champion on Rio's clay), Fognini (six clay titles from 12 clay finals), and Zverev (champion in Rome and Munich last year).

"To me it's really natural so I don't have any problems", Thiem said about his return to playing on clay. He said that a couple of days ago - and I thought he would play Roland Garros. "I'm pleased about the easy win today, because a first match is always a special moment", he added.

The Monte Carlo Masters is the first ATP Masters event on the calendar played on clay.

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"It's hopefully going to be my first event of the year that I can finish".

Nadal who is a 16-time Grand Slam victor will be eyeing his 11 title at the Monte Carlo Masters as he looks to win the tournament for the third time in a row.

Rafael Nadal, the ten time champion and world #1, leads the draw in Monte Carlo.

World number one Rafael Nadal starts his defense for a third consecutive Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title against Slovakian Aljaz Bedene. "For me mentally the second one was even harder than what happened in Australia, even if Australia was a Grand Slam and was an opportunity lost".

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Seeded nine, Djokovic, who is struggling to pick up the pace after an elbow injury, could face Nadal in the semi-finals although just getting a win under his belt would be a relief for the 30-year-old who triumphed in Monte Carlo in 2013 and 2015. But due to a troublesome leg injury, he hasn't played since retiring from his quarterfinal with Marin Cilic at the Australian Open.

After significant rest during the second half of previous year and a medical procedure in February, Djokovic spoke confidently of being pain-free - at long last.

"That's why I am here, to play tennis and to accept all the rules". "Hope I get more confidence and do well (at) these five tournaments on clay".

Donaldson called for a supervisor and when Gabas said he had been aggressive, the world number 51 replied sarcastically: "Oh I'm sorry, I hurt your feelings".

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It was a day to forget at the Monte Carlo Masters for Thanasi Kokkinakis, who suffered a fall before tumbling out in the first round to Karen Khachanov. Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek left his camp, while former coach Marian Vajda - who he parted ways with past year - was drafted back in on a trial basis.