An emotional Rafa lying on center court in Monte Carlo after winning his 6th straight title there last yearIt's that time of the year again. The time when players trade their hard-court shoes for their clay-sliding ones, and prepare themselves to be trampled by one extraordinary Rafael Nadal.
This year Nadal is going for a record-breaking 7th straight Monte Carlo title. Needless to say the record he is trying to break is his very own, set last year when he captured a record 6th consecutive title in the Principality with a devastating performance that saw him drop only 14 games in total over 5 matches (hammered Verdasco 6-1, 6-0 in the final).
This time last year, Nadal was heading to Monaco having not won a title in 11 months and the skeptics were having a field day with it. The Spaniard then went on to make a perfect clay sweep that culminated with a 5th Roland Garros victory, followed by winning Wimbledon and the US Open.
This time around Nadal arrives to Monte Carlo without a title to his name in 2011, but with a mountain of titles to defend ahead of him and a ruthless rival in the form of Novak Djokovic, who pulled out of Monte Carlo with an injury, but will definitely be back harassing the world number one in Madrid, Rome and Roland Garros.
The fact that Nadal is title-less so far in 2011 shouldn't really be a factor. It's not the first time he's not won a title in the first 3 months of the year. The fact that he lost to Djokovic in 2 straight finals however could have an effect on him, although luckily, the Serb isn't playing in Monte Carlo this week.
Also I believe that those 2 wins over Nadal in Indian Wells and Miami have more of an impact on Novak's confidence than they do on Rafa's. Meaning Djokovic is becoming more confident but Nadal is pretty much the same but is aware that his rival is simply getting better. A natural Rafa response should be stepping up his game and rising to the occasion; something he tends to enjoy doing when opportunity arises.
Nadal has won his last 32 straight matches in Monte Carlo but the 24-year-old insists he is not invincible on clay.
“I may have more options on clay. But I don’t feel unbeatable, I know I can lose."
The Spaniard will face Jarkko Nieminen in his opening match in Monte Carlo on Wednesday. He could potentially meet Richard Gasquet  in the third round, and possibly Jo-Wilfried Tsonga  or Tomas Berdych  in the quarters.
Andy Murray , Gilles Simon  and Gael Monfils  are all possible semifinalist opponents for the world number 1, but considering all the good Spanish and South American claycourters scattered around their quarter of the draw, it's not nearly necessary that either one of those seeds makes it to the semis.
The opposite half of the draw features Roger Federer of course, who is seeded second since Djokovic is out. The Swiss has Nicolas Almagro , Marin Cilic  and Jurgen Melzer  in his quarter and could face Fernando Verdasco  or David Ferrer  in the semis.
Federer commences his clay campaign on Tuesday against Philipp Kohlschreiber scheduled not before 11:30a.m. (Monaco time) on Court Central.