Gael Monfils is counting on his unpredictability to help him against Rafael Nadal in Madrid

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(Credit: Twitter/@mutuamadridopen)

Gael Monfils is unpredictable and he knows it. He believes that against Rafael Nadal in the Madrid second round on Wednesday, this could be his biggest asset.

“Even though I’m not in my best shape, I like to know that next to my name is ‘we never know’, so we never know,” Monfils said after his battling 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over qualifier Nikoloz Basilashvili that ended a little before midnight on Monday.

“It’s always tough obviously to play Rafa on clay courts, especially this year, he hasn’t lost a set on clay courts. It’s going to be a big challenge on Wednesday. I’m not in my best shape, that’s a shame a little bit. I just wish I will offer a great match. And when you step on the court you still have the belief that you can win, that’s the beauty of the sport.”

Monfils made a return to action last week in Munich, after being sidelined for seven weeks with a back problem he picked up in Indian Wells in March.

He lost his opener to Mirza Basic in Munich but avoided a similar fate against Georgia’s Basilashvili on Monday night.

“I escaped but it was very close,” said the 41st-ranked Monfils.

“I think I’m getting there slowly,” he said of his physical shape.

“I can see the way I’m moving, I’m a bit slower. My recovery between points, long points especially, it’s a bit tougher. The choice, when I’m out of breath a little bit, my choice, a lot of drop shots today because I didn’t want to play so many points.

“I think I know when I’m in shape I’m not making that selection of shots so definitely no drop shots on Wednesday, not that much. Some more shots that I have to pull out, even if I’m tired, maybe it will help to find a better shape.”

Nadal leads Monfils 13-2 head-to-head and has won his last five straight matches against the Frenchman.

The Mallorcan is on a 19-match winning streak on clay, and has won his last 46 sets in a row on the surface. Monfils knows exactly what he’s up against.

“He’s a legend,” Monfils said of Nadal.

“We are lucky to have two legends (Nadal and Federer) and obviously he’s one of those two. It’s not even credit, it’s Rafa.

“I just admire what he’s doing and actually I feel blessed to have the honour to play against those guys and on Wednesday I will try to break that record (streak), that’s a good motivation too.”

While he’s won it five times already, Madrid is perhaps the clay tournament where Nadal can show some chinks in his armour, due to the altitude and faster conditions.

But a faster court is not necessarily a better thing for Monfils. It doesn’t help that he seemed to have hurt his Achilles’ towards the end of his match with Basilashvili on Monday.

“For sure I’ll try to be aggressive because every time you want to be aggressive against Rafa. But it’s not that easy to be aggressive against him,” explains Monfils.

“His ball, the way he’s moving you on the court, so definitely my mindset will be that I’ll try to be on top of him but it will never happen.

“It will be more a battle from the baseline. For sure I can hold a few games like that because I think I have a few games in the tank but if I go for a long match like that he will win very easily. I’m not yet in great shape to battle with him.”

The former world No. 6 has not defeated Nadal since Doha 2012. His best appearance at the Caja Magica was making the quarter-finals in 2010.

On his part, Nadal isn’t taking his stunning clay-court record for granted (he has won 92 per cent of his clay matches) and insists there are no guarantees.

“I don’t think that I am superior to the other players. Maybe some tournaments have been better than others, but that doesn’t guarantee that in the future I’m going to be better than my opponents,” said the top-ranked Nadal.

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