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  1. Tennis

Tennis: French Open build-up starts with Monte Carlo Masters

The Monte Carlo Masters, which is the first of three ATP Masters 1000 events to be played on clay this season, gets underway on Sunday with the tournament seen as the first stepping stone towards the French Open.

Rafael Nadal has been crowned champion a record-breaking 11 times, which includes claiming eight successive titles between 2005 and 2012, but the King of Clay is a high-profile absentee this year.

Other notable withdrawals include Daniil Medvedev, Matteo Berrettini, Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer but it is still a top-quality field, featuring seven of the world's top ten.

Djokovic returns

World number one Novak Djokovic, who is 9/4 to win the French Open, will make his much-anticipated return to tennis and he could be in line to meet Spanish youngster Carlos Alcaraz, who celebrated success at the Miami Open last week, in what would be a mouthwatering quarter-final.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is the defending champion after beating Andrey Rublev 6-3 6-3 last season and the Greek third seed may have his supporters in his title defence.

Other seeds who would figure highly in calculations are Norway's Casper Ruud, German sensation Alexander Zverev, who is 16/1 to win the French Open, and classy Canadian Felix Auger Aliassime.

Britain's hopes rest on the shoulders of seventh seed Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans and the tournament is available to watch on our Sports Live Streaming platform.

Djokovic tops the seedings in Monte Carlo and it has been a long time coming for the Serb, who has been absent since suffering a quarter-final defeat to Jiri Vesely in the ATP Dubai in February.

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That is the 34-year-old's only tournament appearance in 2022, after he missed the Australian Open and other events in Indian Wells and Miami.

A lack of match practice must be of some concern, although Djokovic is the defending French Open champion which shows he can still mix it with the very best on a clay surface.

The world number one has also won this event twice - in 2013 and 2015 - but he was a third-round casualty to British star Evans last year.

In fact, Djokovic has failed to go beyond the quarter-final here since his 2015 success and with a lack of a recent outing could be opposable at the forecast prices.

Tsitsipas hoping to defend his crown

Tsitsipas, who is 6/1 to win the French Open, has great clay-court pedigree and he showed his qualities on slower terrain when scooping this prize in emphatic fashion last year.

The Greek star won the title without dropping a set, defeating the likes of Cristian Garin, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Evans and Rublev.

A reproduction of that form would make him the one to beat and it is worth noting his last two efforts in the French Open have seen him reach a semi-final and finish runner-up.

The world number five has enjoyed mixed success this season but he did make the semi-final at the Australian Open and he should be much happier on this surface.

If over the elbow injury which kept him out of action at the end of last year, then Tsitsipas must go well and he is in the right quarter of the draw with sixth seed Auger-Aliassime vulnerable on clay.

Casper in rude health

Surprises tend to be few and far between in this tournament but if Djokovic, Tsitsipas or Alcaraz falter then Ruud would be the obvious alternative.

The rising Norwegian showed himself to be in good form when reaching the Miami Open final and although beaten by Alcaraz in the final, this surface gives him a decent chance of exacting revenge.

The 23-year-old is a seven-time winner on the ATP Tour and six of those title triumphs have come on clay, which includes in Buenos Aires earlier this year.

His game is well-suited to a slower surface and on current form he is definitely a threat to all.

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