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MONACO: Rafael Nadal says he’s fit and well as he embarks on the start of his clay court campaign in Monte Carlo, the first port of call on the road to Roland Garros.

The Spaniard is aiming for a 12th Masters title in the Principality ahead of his pursuit of a 14th French Open success and a record 21st Grand Slam.

“An important part of the season has arrived for me,” he told a press conference on Sunday.

“I think I did the right work to be ready. I’m happy the way that I am playing, for the moment my body is in good shape.

“I am confident. I am playing well I think. I’m practising well these couple of days here in Monaco, in Monte Carlo, before the tournament start. So I feel ready.”

Nadal enters the fray on Wednesday not having hit a ball in anger since his Australian Open quarter-final loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

He was hampered by a bad back in Melbourne, and opted to skip a series of tournaments since then to ensure he was fully fit for the gruelling clay court season.

“I’m just going step by step,” said a relaxed Nadal.

“I hope to be ready to stay healthy, that’s the main thing. If I am able to stay healthy for the next month and a half, I hope to have my chances to compete at the right level.”

He is seeded to meet Novak Djokovic in the final in Monte Carlo which if it materialises is likely to be a dress rehearsal for the French Open final.

Nadal won his 13th Roland Garros title to draw level with Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slams by beating Djokovic in the coronavirus-delayed Paris final in October.

Meanwhile, Djokovic also said he was “physically ready” and impatient to get back on court in Monte Carlo. Like Nadal, Djokovic hasn’t played since the Australian Open where he was champion for a ninth time, taking his Grand Slam haul to 18.

He managed to triumph despite an abdomen injury.

“I feel physically ready,” said the world number one on Sunday. “Mentally, I’ve missed tennis for the past two months when I haven’t played a tournament. So I can’t wait to play my first match.” That will be Wednesday in the second round against either teenage Italian prodigy Jannik Sinner (ranked at 23rd in the world) or 47th-ranked Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain.

“I trained a lot on clay. In fact, since I decided not to play in Miami, I have been hitting balls on clay.”

Djokovic was the champion in Monaco, where he also lives, in 2013 and 2015.

However, he hasn’t made it past the quarter-finals since his last title-winning year.

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