World number one Rafael Nadal starts his defense for a third consecutive Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters title against Slovakian Aljaz Bedene. This will be Nadal's first tour-level match since his retirement in the Australian Open quarterfinals against Marin Cilic.
This will be the pair's second-ever meeting with their first meeting actually coming in Monte Carlo back in 2016. Just like this year, the meeting will take place in the second round.; Nadal won 6-3, 6-3 back in 2016.
Bedene has played in a number of tournaments so far this season, but he has shown his best form on clay by far. He made the final at the Argentina Open but was overpowered by Dominic Thiem, going down in straight sets. He followed that up by going the distance in Rio de Janeiro against Fabio Fognini in the quarterfinals but was downed in three. The Slovenian has only won one match outside of clay this year, coming in Qatar against Malek Jaziri.
Nadal on the other hand has been injured for most of the season. The Spaniard looked quite good at the Australian Open before getting injured in the quarterfinal against Cilic, being forced to retire. He took time off, withdrawing from both Acapulco and the Sunshine Double before returning for Spain's Davis Cup tie against Germany.
If there were any questions about Nadal heading into the Davis Cup tie, he put them to rest immediately, dominating both Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev on the red clay in Valencia as Spain edged the Germans 3-2.
Bedene's clay court ability could cause Nadal some troubles. Their only meeting in which Nadal dropped six games to the Slovenian could see the same scoreline this time around or even maybe a could even take a few more games. Nadal did beat high-level players in a straightforward fashion in the Davis Cup but his first tour-level match may throw out a little more pressure for the 10-time champion in the principality.
Expect Nadal to win this matchup but don't expect this one to be a blowout.
Prediction: Nadal in straight sets