Defending Mutua Madrid Open champion Rafael Nadal kicks off his campaign against a familiar opponent in Gael Monfils. Monfils got through to the second round after a tough three-setter against Nikoloz Basilashvili. The winner will face either Feliciano Lopez or Diego Schwartzman in the third round.
Nadal has dominated this matchup since their first meeting back in 2005 in Monte Carlo. Nadal has won 13 of their 15 matchups with the Frenchman only taking matches off the five-time Madrid champion in Doha, one of the premier warmups before the Australian Open.
They've met four times on clay with Monfils only taking one set off of Nadal in those previous clay court meetings which took place in the 2016 Monte Carlo final where he took the second set 7-5 before falling in the third.
The high altitude and cooler conditions in Madrid will be a key factor this week. Despite being a five-time champion, the world number one does not like the conditions in Madrid as he does in the other clay court tournaments.
Monfils will have to take advantage of these conditions if he's going to have any chance of beating Nadal. To be fair though, not many players though have looked like they could stand toe-to-toe against the King of Clay this season so far with the likes of Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori looking at best average against the world number one.
The Frenchman is going need to replicate his performance from Monte Carlo a couple years ago to make a dent in Nadal's game. In that match, Monfils used his power and athleticism to take it to the Spaniard, especially in the second set, putting the world number one on the defensive for a good number of points.
The world number one has looked unbeatable on clay so far this year bar a few minor slip-ups against the likes of Nishikori, David Goffin, and Martin Klizan. Nadal is the huge favorite headed into this match not only because of head-to-head but due to the surface as well. It's going to make a subpar performance from him as well as Monfils hitting his stride for a potential upset bid to hit the cards.
Prediction: Nadal in straight sets