Djoker hoping to usurp Rafa on clay

Ah, April. More than any other time of the season, it's Rafa's time.

Rafael Nadal has won an astonishing 15 titles in the month of April, with May (11), June (9) and July (7) coming next in his personal pantheon. Last year in the Monte Carlo final, his 81-match winning streak in April came to an end against Novak Djokovic. You'll be seeing quite a bit of these two as the clay-court season unfolds, beginning in earnest this week in Monte Carlo. ESPN3 will televise 100-plus hours.

Here, looking ahead to the clay season, is our most recent edition of Up or Down:


Rafael Nadal: What, you thought that little hiccup in the Miami final, where he lost handily to Djokovic, was going to get him down? After losing that Monte Carlo final to Djokovic, No. 1 Rafa ran the table the rest of the clay season, going 22-0 and winning four titles, capped by No. 8 at Roland Garros -- in nine years. But Rafa doesn't come into the dirt with the same momentum he did a year ago.


Novak Djokovic: That 6-3, 6-3 win in Florida came on a hard court, but the No. 2-ranked Djokovic has that predatory gleam in his eyes again. You have to believe he's carrying the patience and confidence to play with Nadal in Paris. Monte Carlo would be Djokovic's fifth straight Masters title.


Stanislas Wawrinka: The world No. 3 is in Nadal's half of the draw in Monte Carlo, but he's pretty solid on the dirt. Wawrinka was 19-4 in the 2013 clay swing, losing to Nadal in the quarters at Roland Garros. But Wawrinka has produced mediocre results at best since winning the Aussie, bowing out in the fourth round in Miami and losing two of three matches (one singles, one doubles) in the Davis Cup quarterfinals.


Roger Federer: Last year's clay campaign was not a typical success for No. 4 Federer. He passed on Monte Carlo and lost to Rafa in the Rome final and to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (in straight sets) in the French Open quarters. This year, Federer is in the Monte Carlo lineup and is playing like a younger man than his 32 years.


Tomas Berdych: Miami did not go well for the Berdman, as a stomach virus left him unable to take the court for the semifinals. Let's hope his gastric distress has passed as the clay beckons. Believe it or not, the ATP's No. 5 previously has made at least the semifinals of Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome and Paris.


David Ferrer: The No. 6-ranked Spaniard can do Berdych one better. He has been a finalist at three of those four events, including last year's French Open. The clay season can't come soon enough for Ferrer, who wasn't able to match last year's great run in Miami.


Andy Murray: Monte Carlo is the only ATP Masters 1000 where play is not mandatory. Murray, who is off to an indifferent start after back surgery last year, is sitting this one out. This is not his favorite time of the year.


Alexandr Dolgopolov: His ranking is up to No. 22, and he won an impressive seven matches in Indian Wells and Miami, losing to Berdych and Federer. The 25-year-old Ukraine player made the final at Rio de Janeiro (losing to Rafa) and looks ready to do some damage as we spring into the clay season.