Does Rafael Nadal have anything to fear on clay? Yes and no

Monte Carlo experienced a Rafael Nadal tsunami last week, leaving many to wonder if the developing clay-court season will hold any suspense on Sundays.

Nadal launched his Euroclay campaign by ripping through five consecutive matches in what, at the outset, looked like a tough draw. When Nadal dismantled Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in the Monte Carlo final, it marked his 14th consecutive win on clay without losing a single set. He also become the first man in pro tour history to win the same title -- a Masters 1000 event, no less -- 11 times, a triumph that also made Nadal the all-time Masters title earner with 31.

The cherry atop his Sunday: Nadal surpassed John McEnroe on the "most weeks at No. 1" list (now 171 weeks for Nadal).

The pundits were rendered either speechless or driven to flights of poetic fancy.

Justin Gimelstob, the Tennis Channel analyst who called most of Nadal's Monte Carlo matches, told ESPN.com on Monday: "Rafa is essentially a Marvel comics superhero. This just isn't normal stuff. He's a perfect storm to the point where the goal for most guys is just to be able to compete with him, never mind beat him."

It isn't hyperbole. But as thoroughly as Nadal dominated in Monte Carlo, officials at the rest of the upcoming clay events shouldn't feel pressured to make out those first-place prize money checks to Nadal just yet.

For one thing, Nadal isn't just being the humble and thankful champion when he reiterates, "My goal is always the same thing: Be healthy, because if I am not healthy, I cannot have any goal; second goal is be happy. That's it. Then ... I know that normally I have good chances to play good tennis."

Nadal has learned the real value of those words in recent years. Who, including Nadal himself, could foresee that a freak tweak of his hip would force Nadal to abandon his quarterfinal clash with Marin Cilic months ago in the Australian Open? That episode harkened back to a moment in 2016 when Nadal, looking unbeatable at the French Open, had to withdraw before his third round match with a wrist injury.

It's easy to forget those and other breakdowns and interludes while watching Nadal pulverize opponents the way he did in Monaco. Just like you never imagine the Corvette not starting when you slip the key in the ignition.

There also were stirrings of resurgence among some reliable challengers in Monaco, including Nadal's once-lethal rival, Novak Djokovic, and that perennial contender, Juan Martin del Potro.

Djokovic, reunited with his former coach Marian Vajda, looked replenished, relaxed and ready to bust out of his puzzling slump. He told the press he was determined to reclaim the No. 1 ranking, then won two matches -- and rushed out to secure a wild card for this week's event in Barcelona. The enthusiasm, at least, is there.

Del Potro wrecked opponents during the U.S. hard-court segment with that monstrous serve and forehand. He took a few weeks off, skipping Monte Carlo, and he ought to be a major force when he returns fit and determined to improve his No. 6 ranking.

"My body feels that [clay] surface," Del Potro said at the Miami Open. "I want to stay healthy during the whole season. That's my biggest goal."

Nishikori's recovery from a wrist injury that kept him off the tour for nearly six months advanced by a great leap, although he had little gas in the tank for the final. Unseeded, he played one more match than Nadal. Four of Nishikori's five matches went three sets, and he erased some big names: Tomas Berdych, Cilic and Alexander Zverev.

"It was great week for me," Nishikori insisted in his presser following the final, adding, "Maybe my body, especially my legs, were very heavy today."

Giant killer David Goffin returned from a freak eye injury and won a few matches, while players such as Zverev, Cilic, Grigor Dimitrov and Dominic Thiem all looked to be on the upswing, prepared for the challenge of clay during the week. The draw played out predictably without even a surprise quarterfinalist.

Taken individually, none of the previously mentioned players seem like much of a threat to the "King of Clay." But having to beat a number of them in succession, week after week, could prove a daunting mission. Tennis is a sport of individuals, but it's going to take a team effort to stop Nadal. That team might be assembling.