Novak Djokovic
London: The last time Novak Djokovic faced Rafael Nadal at the Monte Carlo Masters, it was 2015, and the straight-set victory over his rival was nothing more than a warm-up before he won the final proper. It was a good time to be Novak Djokovic.

But much has changed since that encounter on the sun-kissed Court Rainier III, and if the pair meet in the quarter-final stage of this year’s tournament, it will be a slog to fell Nadal, who is in resurgent form atop the world rankings.

Djokovic has endured something of a blip of late, suffering three consecutive losses, including a three-set defeat at the Indian Wells Masters to Taro Daniel, a qualifier from Japan, following a fourth-round exit at the Australian Open.

The downturn for Djokovic, who less than two years ago could not be beaten on the men’s tour, is in large part due to an elbow problem that does not seem to have fully healed, and off-court distractions he has not detailed publicly.

But practising in Monte Carlo yesterday, Djokovic looked a man on a mission, determined to put behind him a rocky few months and make again permanent the occasional flashes of brilliance he has shown on-court so far this year.

When the 30-year-old Serb deposed Donald Young in the first round at the Australian Open, it was with his usual flourishes that he did so: the deep groundstrokes and plays at the net that have long been his trademark style.

And despite the quick nature of his defeat at the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, his game looked strong and precise in the early stages, and the uncharacteristic unforced errors came only as he began to fade in the final set.

Making it through the early rounds at this tournament should at least be more straightforward. He may face fifth seed Dominic Thiem in the second round, but the sterner test is a potential tie against Nadal in the quarter-finals. Defending champion Nadal, firmly entrenched as the top seed, is the favourite to claim a record 11th crown in Monaco.

Djokovic, who recently reunited with Marian Vajda, the coach who guided him to a first world No 1 ranking now has a chance to prove spoiler. - Reuters