London , 6 April 2011 | AP

Twelve months ago, Rafael Nadal’s disappointing and title-less American hardcourt season was brought to an end in a three-set semi-final loss to Andy Roddick at the Sony Ericsson Open.

Questions continued to swirl over Nadal’s ability to recapture his best form after his lengthy injury problems, with his Australian Open retirement loss to Andy Murray doing nothing to assuage the doubts.

But when Nadal held court in Miami in the wake of his Roddick defeat he shrugged off the concerns and relished the start of his favourite claycourt season with the claim: “I’m ready to play my best.”

Three whirlwind months later, Nadal had made history by obliterating his rivals over the course of the clay campaign, scooping titles in Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid and Paris – before switching to grass and conquering Wimbledon for good measure.

All of which is why all the talk of Novak Djokovic breathing down Nadal’s neck in a bid to become the new world No.1 is rather premature – despite the Serbian’s astonishing unbeaten start to 2011.

Nadal may have fallen to the irrepressible Djokovic in Miami at the weekend but you could sense a glint in his eye when he was questioned about what his rivals had in store for them back on his beloved red dirt.

“It’s once in a lifetime to win every tournament on clay and it’s difficult to imagine I can repeat it for two years in a row,” insisted Nadal.

“But I’m happy with the way I’m playing and my level. Normally when we play on clay I have little bit more of an advantage, so let’s see what is going to happen in Monte Carlo.

“It’s always hard to adapt to clay after 10 months off. It’s not going to be perfect. I’m going to try my best to win my seventh (in a row in Monte Carlo) but I know it is a very difficult tournament.”

Djokovic is clearly less accomplished on clay, but he is no slouch, having won in Rome in 2008 and finished runner-up – each time to Nadal – in both Rome and Monte Carlo in 2009.

The Serbian’s run is sure to end soon. Talk of his imminent ascendancy to the summit may be a little premature. As far as the claycourt season is concerned, Nadal remains the man everyone has to beat.