Roger Federer is sounding more like a guy ranked No. 1 in the world than someone has hasn’t won a title in his last four tournaments. Speaking to the press this past weekend at the Monte Carlo Masters, Federer was full of confidence and belief, suggesting that he’s feeling as good as he’s felt heading into a clay season as he has in a long time.
Right or wrong, we’ll find out very soon what’s in store for Roger this spring. The Swiss begins the clay portion of the season Tuesday against a the tricky Phil Kohlschreiber. Federer has never lost to the fellow one-hander in five matches but this will be their first meeting on clay. And Kohlschreiber, who’s has had some big wins in his career, just came off a three-set win Sunday over Andrey Golubev.
Another match on center court worthy of attention – and there are many – is Milos Raonic v. Ernests Gulbis. Raonic did well beating Michael Llodra Sunday to collect his first career red clay win. Now he’ll face the big-hitting mystery named Gulbis. When Gulbis is on, he’s tough. When he’s not, he’s usually out. I think Tuesday the good Gulbis shows up and gives Raonic all he can handle. It should be a good match.
“Firstly, it’s going to be that I hit shots that I expect to be finishing the point on, and there’s always one ball more coming back,” Raonic said Sunday about the difference of playing on clay. “Sometimes it ends up being 10 balls in one point more coming back. That’s the biggest thing. I think another big thing is sort of changing the mental adaptation to it, being ready for these kind of situations, these kind of long points where everything does come back. It’s a learning process. But I’m ready to use it to progress as much as possible.”
Also, Gilles Simon is on first in a great matchup against Tomaz Bellucci. Touted as one of the next big stars – I recall Johnny McEnroe dubbed him a future Top 10 player – Bellucci really hasn’t been a factor at the highest levels of tennis. Might this clay season be the breakthrough to the Brazilian?
JW Tsonga, who had a great win Monday over Juan Monaco, will have the joint jumping against Ivan Ljubicic.
On the outer courts, Tomas Berdych plays the diminutive Oli Rochus and Janko Tipsarevic meets Feliciano Lopez.
Some other results from today worth a mention include Marcos Baghdatis’s loss to Radek Stepanek. Baghdatis has now lost six straight matches. Meanwhile, Stepanek, who saved two matchpoints in the effort, moves on to play another guy stuck in a funk, Andy Murray, on Wednesday.
Robin Haase, a kid I really like if he can stay healthy, picked up one of his best clay wins beating former French Open semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Davydenko’s play is really starting drop off considerably.
Two darkhorse candidates Richard Gasquet and Nicolas Almagro were also winners. If the draw works out they’ll eventually run into Nadal and Federer, respectively.
Matches are being televised on the Tennis Channel all week. Streaming is also available on the ATP site.
TUESDAY MONTE CARLO SCHEDULE
COURT CENTRAL start 10:30 am
T Bellucci (BRA) vs  G Simon (FRA)
Not Before 11:30 AM
P Kohlschreiber (GER) vs  R Federer (SUI)
Not Before 1:30 PM
 J Tsonga (FRA) vs I Ljubicic (CRO)
E Gulbis (LAT) vs M Raonic (CAN)
COURT DES PRINCES start 10:30 am
J Tipsarevic (SRB) vs F Lopez (ESP)
K Anderson (RSA) vs F Fognini (ITA)
A Montanes (ESP) vs X Malisse (BEL)
[Q] O Rochus (BEL) vs  [WC] T Berdych (CZE)
COURT 2 start 11:00am
[Q] M Gonzalez (ARG) vs V Hanescu (ROU)
[Q] V Millot (FRA) vs G Garcia-Lopez (ESP)
[Q] P Riba (ESP) vs P Starace (ITA)
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