Nadal pokes fun at Federer over clay court absence

World No.1 Rafael Nadal has teased Roger Federer over his long-time rival's decision to skip the clay court season for a second-straight year.

Federer has enjoyed a renaissance by scaling back his schedule in the latter stages of his career, beating Nadal in a spectacular Australian Open final and in three other meetings on hard surfaces in 2017.

Despite that defeat in Melbourne, the Spaniard backed up his 'King of Clay' nickname by winning his 10th titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros.

Nadal has been troubled by a hip injury this season but, speaking at Indian Wells last month, Federer said he would "love to play Rafa on clay" again, having won just two of their 15 clashes on the surface.

Two weeks later the 36-year-old announced he will not be competing on the dirt this season, prompting a playful comment from his rival ahead of the Monte Carlo Masters.

"He said he'd love to play me again in a best-of-five on clay so I thought he'd play Roland Garros, and two days later he said he's not playing on clay. Maybe a little contradictory," joked Nadal.

Nadal and Federer. Image: Getty

Nadal said on Sunday that he is fit and ready to defend his Monte Carlo Masters title and the No.1 ranking this week, as he returns to the ATP Tour after injury.

The 31-year-old made his comeback from a hip injury with two wins in Spain's Davis Cup quarter-final victory over Germany last weekend, having not played previously since January's Australian Open.

Nadal was forced to retire from his last-eight clash with Marin Cilic in Melbourne, but recently usurped Federer at the top of the world rankings after his great rival's early exit in Miami.

"I feel that I'm playing well. I had some good days of practice here, playing some good sets," Nadal said ahead of the start of the claycourt season.

"That helps me. I love this event. I always feel comfortable here.

"I'm enjoying being here in Monte Carlo in an event that always brings me to the best feelings possible.

"It's hopefully going to be my first event of the year that I can finish. And I'm excited about that."

The 16-time Grand Slam champion is bidding for an incredible 11th title in Monaco and his third in a row, but knows that anything less than that would see him lose the No.1 spot to the absent Federer.

Nadal had been due to return at Acapulco in February, but was forced to withdraw before his opening match and admitted that it was tough to miss the American hardcourt season.

"I knew when I was going to be ready. The problem is that it takes time," the Spaniard added.

"Australia was a tough moment, of course, being in that quarter-final, winning the match and having that problem, having a good chance.

"But I took the right time to have the right rest. I did all the things that the doctors told me. Then I felt great practising in Acapulco, playing very well, but then just the day before... I felt it again. So that's the real thing.

"For me mentally the second one was even harder than what happened in Australia, even if Australia was a Grand Slam and was an opportunity lost.

"The second one was frustrating because I did all the things the right way."

with agencies