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Rafael Nadal names six players who can provide a challenge to him on clay in 2019

Nadal assessed his challengers on clay
Nadal opened up on his competition (Picture: Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal may well be the overwhelming favourite to dominate on the clay once more in 2019 but he believes there is a crop of young stars who can challenge the established guard this time around.

His own preparations for his favoured surface have been disrupted by a knee injury – he was only able to begin practising two weeks ago – but he will chase a record 12th title in Monte Carlo before eventually going on to target the same feat at Roland Garros.

Nadals injury woes combined with Novak Djokovics brilliance at Grand Slam level in recent times suggests there is at least one contender to dethrone the 32-year-old Spaniard, while Dominic Thiem – last years French Open finalist – impressed on the hard courts of Indian Wells and is expected to offer a serious challenge once more.

Roger Federers return to clay, for the first time since 2016, is also intriguing and Nadal believes he can still be a contender at the clay-court Slam he won in 2009.

Federer will play on clay this year
Federer will return to clay (Picture: TPN/Getty Images)

And the world No. 2 also pointed out some of the young guns – namely Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov – who he believes could make an impact.

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We cant predict the future, so I hope to be one of them, he said of this years clay-court contenders. You never know.

So there is a young generation coming, and they are good, and they play well on clay, too. So lets see about Felix, lets see about Shapovalov, lets see about Tsitsipas. They are good. They are good in all the surfaces, and they like to play on clay, too. And they played matches on clay already.

Going to be an interesting clay court season. Of course Dominic is one of the candidates for everything, especially after winning in Indian Wells. Novak always, of course. And lets see, for Roger, always is a candidate.

Djokovic will be a threat
Djokovic is expected to challenge (Picture: Getty Images)

Lets see how hes able to adapt his game again to the clay after a while without playing on clay. I dont think will be a big trouble for him, because he has the talent. But lets see. I cant tell you now. Lets wait a couple of weeks.

Nadal will face compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut in his opening match on Court Prince Rainier III on Wednesday in an all-Spanish affair – a potentially tough opener on paper, particularly if hes not fully fit.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion, as ever, was reluctant to big up his own chances on the dirt – where he has lost just two matches in the past two years – and opened up on his recent injury struggles.

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I dont know. I understand the clay court season. I cant tell you any feeling, he said.

You know, have been a tough year and a half for me, Read More – Source

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