With apologies to Houston and the earlier Latin American swing, the clay season officially starts this week in Monte Carlo. The familiar names return to the historic courts on the edge of the Mediterranean led of course by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, who bids for an incredible 8th straight Monte Carlo title.
With Roger Federer vacationing poolside (or he just has a really, really big bathtub) and Juan Martin Del Potro recovering from Davis Cup, Nadal’s chief competition comes from arch rival Novak Djokovic, countryman David Ferrer and Andy Murray. But Nadal won’t run into any of those three until the final!
Looking at the draw which was just released, Nadal figures to have an easy go of it early on. Seeded second, Nadal will meet the winner of Nieminen/Stepanek, then possibly Florian Mayer before either Stan Wawrinka or Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals. Other than his ailing knees, that’s the extent of troubles for Rafa in his section.
In the semifinals Nadal could face JW Tsonga, who lost last weekend on these same Monte Carlo courts to John Isner (like just about all the Americans Isner is not playing the event). Tsonga is the slight favorite in a wide open quadrant that includes Janko Tipsarevic, Milos Raonic, Albert Montanes, Gilles Simon, Phil Kohlschreiber, Fernando Verdasco and Ivan Ljubicic who is playing his final event. So take your pick! I might lean to Kohlschreiber, Montanes or maybe even Verdasco. Perhaps Raonic who opens against Montanes can make a run. It’s really a toss up.
In the top half, Djokovic begins his clay campaign against a qualifier or Andreas Seppi. Then Dolgopolov or Chela who meet in a good first rounder. In his quarter he’ll likely run into Ferrer who should be able to set up that showdown with the Serb. And despite Ferrer’s acumen on clay and his strong play this season, I like Djokovic’s firepower in that matchup so I’ll take Novak out to the semifinals.
And that leaves the Murray quarter. Andy shouldn’t have an issue getting to the quarter where he could run into Tomas Berdych. And that’s a tough match but I’ll take Murray who really showed some improvement on clay last year.
If it all folds as I planned, we’ll have Djokovic v. Murray in one SF, and someone (sorry, I can’t pick one!) against Nadal in the other. And I think Nadal beats Novak in the final. Rafa’s had knee issues, which should (magically) subside, while Djokovic, even though he just won Miami, still doesn’t look like the same guy he was a year ago.
Also, Novak is focused on the French, as is Rafa, but the Spaniard, titleless since the French, desperately needs to get back in the win column. Rafa really needs this one and I think he builds his snowman (#8).
Worth noting is that with Madrid turning the color of its clay from red to blue and the speedier courts in Rome, Monte Carlo may offer the most similar conditions this season to the French Open.
Tennis Channel should have live wall-to-wall coverage starting Monday.
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