When you think of Rafael Nadal, you usually think about Roland Garros, too. And rightfully so—he captured his first Grand Slam title there in 2005, his record-tying 20th Grand Slam title there in 2020, and he’s won it 13 times in total, the most titles at a single major for anyone in tennis history.
But Roland Garros isn’t the only tournament he’s dominated at a historic level.
This week, Nadal kicks off his clay-court season in Monte Carlo, where he’s an 11-time champion. He lifted the title eight straight years in 2005 (his first career Masters 1000 crown), 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, and then another three years in a row in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It’s the most titles at a single Masters 1000 tournament since Masters 1000 tournaments began in 1990.
Only six players have even won 11 or more Masters 1000 titles in total—Novak Djokovic (36), Nadal (35), Roger Federer (28), Andre Agassi (17), Andy Murray (14) and Pete Sampras (11).
“I’m happy to be back to the tour, of course, and especially happy to be back here in this amazing place,” Nadal told ATPTour.com. “It’s part of the history of our sport, this tournament, and it’s part of my personal history, too. I’m very excited to be back, just enjoying the first couple of days here with some beautiful weather, and some good conditions to play tennis, and I’m very excited to start.”
Nadal is an incredible 71-5 in Monte Carlo, those 71 wins being the most for any man at any single Masters 1000 event. He’s only lost once before the quarterfinals here, in his 2003 tournament debut, where—as a No. 109-ranked 16-year-old—he stunned No. 7-ranked reigning French Open champion Albert Costa in the second round before falling to Guillermo Coria in the round of 16.
He’s reached the quarterfinals or better in all 15 appearances in Monte Carlo since that 2003 debut.
“I’ve always felt comfortable in Monte Carlo,” the Spaniard said. “I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere here, the club, the place, the conditions to play tennis. I’ve always had a love story with this place. Hopefully this year it can continue, and I can be ready to compete at the highest level again.”
Nadal will be playing just his second tournament of the year, having reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in February. Leading up to that run, he had been struggling with a back injury.
“It was tough times before the Australian Open. I had to find solutions every day to try to play the tournament, and I finally did. It was not a bad result—quarterfinals—but it was not as good as I would like. I felt very ready for Melbourne, but after the problem on the back, for around 20-something days before the tournament started I had these problems, so I lost the positive feelings a little bit.
“Then it took some time to be back on court. I had to do some treatment at home. It took a couple of weeks to be able to work the right way again. But I am quite happy now—for the last month I’ve been practicing well, I was able to work as much as I would like, and I’m happy the way I’ve arrived here.”
After a first-round bye this week, Nadal will open against either Adrian Mannarino or Federico Delbonis—he’s 2-0 against the Frenchman (4-0 in sets) and 4-0 against the Argentine (9-0 in sets).
Nadal is actually 29-1 against all of the players in his quarter of the draw combined, the only loss coming against his potential third-round opponent, Grigor Dimitrov, who snuck out a win against him on the hard courts of Beijing in 2016. The Spaniard is 13-1 against the Bulgarian overall, though.
Should he make it through the early rounds, the No. 3-seeded Nadal could face No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev in the quarters, No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev in the semis and No. 1 seed Djokovic in the final.