Monte Carlo Masters: Who Will Reign and Tame the Clay?
In less than one week, the first significant European clay court event on the road to Roland Garros will commence. The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters is the first of three Masters 1000 events on clay and will be contested at the majestic Monte Carlo Country Club April 15-22nd.
Rafa Nadal, currently atop the ATP rankings for the fifth time in his illustrious career, leads the field and is the defending champion. Nadal has won this prestigious event ten times including an Open-Era record of eight consecutive titles between 2005-2012. Following his tenth title in Monte Carlo last season, Nadal went on to win in Barcelona, Madrid, and Paris – claiming his tenth title on the terre battue at the French Open.
It remains to be seen who will feel lucky when the draw is announced on Friday, April 13th. The Spaniard has not played a tournament level match since retiring with a recurring hip injury mid-match in the quarterfinals against Marin Cilic at the Australian Open earlier this season.
Despite winning both his singles matches in the Davis Cup tie against Germany this past weekend on outdoor clay, Nadal’s victory over Alexander Zverev was not entirely straightforward; Zverev was not playing with a great deal of confidence having just lost the final at the Miami Open.
Coming off impressive victories against Nick Krygios and an in-form Borna Coric, Zverev, undeniably took his foot off the gas against the American, John Isner who arrived in Miami with a dismal 2-6 record and little conviction.
Although Isner gained confidence with impressive wins over Marin Cilic, Hyeon Chung and Juan Martin Del Potro, the soon to be twenty-one-year-old German had led their head-to-head 3-0 and had appeared to regain the form that led him to victory last season at two Masters 1000 events on two surfaces (Rome & Montreal).
While Nadal has beaten Zverev all four times they have played, the German took the Spaniard to five sets at the 2017 Australian Open. Last year in Monte Carlo, however, the German was schooled; Nadal, on his beloved red clay, trounced Zverev 6-1, 6-1 in the fourth round.
The field in Monte Carlo this season, though missing 20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer for the second consecutive year, is extremely compelling. Marin Cilic, coming off two impressive wins in Davis Cup is the #3 seed, while Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and Lucas Pouille round off the outstanding field. Not quite forgotten is the #12 seed and two-time Monte Carlo champion, Novak Djokovic.
Pouille seldom disappoints and continues to impress. He helped France reach the semi-finals in Davis Cup this past weekend on outdoor clay against Italy by winning both his matches, including a five-set thriller against Andreas Seppi.
Based on his consistent play last season and in the first quarter of 2018, the 24-year-old Frenchman with five career titles, has achieved a career-high ranking of number ten and is most definitely a threat to Rafa’s reign on the dirt.
The road to Roland Garros may be long and arduous but it is never boring or predictable.