Rafa seeks ninth Monaco title

For the first time in nine years, Rafael Nadal will not begin his Monte-Carlo Masters campaign as defending champion.

After eight straight titles starting in 2005, the 27-year-old Spaniard lost in last year's final to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

Back then the Serbian was the world No 1, a position currently held by Nadal as the European clay court season begins in earnest at one of the most picturesque settlings in world tennis.

And another excellent field has assembled for what is one of the most prestigious titles in the sport, outside of the Grand Slams.

One of the few absentees among the top 20 is Andy Murray - the world No 4 - who is not expected to open his clay court campaign until Madrid in early May.

Also missing is Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro who is yet to recover from wrist surgery, while Richard Gasquet has withdrawn from the event with a sore back.

World No 10 Gasquet missed last week's Davis Cup tie against Germany because of injury and has not yet made a full recovery.

The Frenchman, who returned to training this week, admitted: "I only picked up the racket again on Tuesday, very steadily.

"But I've been in pain since and today, after 20 minutes of training, I couldn't carry on.

"I could hardly even carry my bag. I thought things would be fine after 15 days without doing anything. But no, not at all."


His absence means compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, initially facing Ernest Gulbis, become the No 9 seed and earns a bye into the second round.

As for the favourite Nadal, he said: "I'm now at the top of the points race arriving to the clay court season.

"That's positive for me but I need to be my 100 per cent. To make a difference I need to try to be aggressive, to try to move myself very well on clay, and to try to find the best feeling possible as soon as possible."

After a first round bye, he will take on either a qualifier or Frenchman Gilles Simon.

Other than last year's defeat by Djokovic, Nadal's only other loss on the clay of the principality came as a 16-year-old in 2003.

Djokovic, a three-time finalist in Monaco (all against Nadal), is in the same half of the draw as Roger Federer who returns for the first time since 2011.

The Swiss star - seeded four - is another to suffer at the hands of Nadal, beaten in three successive finals from 2006.

Federer, 32, made the decision to play after helping Switzerland into the Davis Cup semi-finals last weekend, a boost to his rising confidence.

He has a bye into the second round where he will face a fellow veteran - either Radek Stepanek and Ivo Karlovic.

Federer's compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka is the No 3 seed and in the top half of the draw with Nadal.

Watch the Monte Carlo Masters live on Sky Sports 3HD from Monday.