The clay season begins in earnest this weekend at the Monte Carlo Tennis Masters. A week after suffering a frightening right ankle sprain, Novak Djokovic is in the field and after practicing yesterday is apparently ready to play. The top seed will be joined by the King of Clay, Rafael Nadal, who seeks a record ninth title.
Juan Martin Del Potro took a wildcard and he’s in the draw. Andy Murray, JW Tsonga and Tomas Berdcyh are also among the top contenders to Nadal. Roger Federer and David Ferrer are among those not playing.
Looking over the draw, Djokovic is a good spot early on. After a bye, which will give him a few more days to get that ankle into shape, the Serb will play the Youzhny/Traver winner, then his first seed could be a player coming all the way from Houston in John Isner or Juan Monaco (the two play today in the semifinals there). And from there his quarterfinal opponent will likely be Del Potro or possible Milos Raonic. Del Potro is returning early after some left wrist issues so I like Novak in the rematch of their Indian Wells semi.
In the second quarter, Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Marin Cilic are the standouts of a pretty week section. The way Berdych has been playing I like him to get to the semifinals to face Djokovic. Cilic could be the spoiler and Gasquet has been playing well but the Frenchmen seems to struggle on his home red clay.
Seeded third, Nadal will likely open against countryman Fernando Verdasco, then Kolhscreiber followed by Simon, Tipsarevic or maybe Florian Mayer. Verdasco has been awful this year and the German Kohlschreiber is not as great a threat on the clay as he is on say grass. So Nadal, as if he needed it, really got a great draw. And the guy is a ridiculous 44-1 at the event having won his last 42!
Miami champion Murray might have some interesting battles. The Scot who’s never reached a clay tournament final will be tested in the third by Stan Wawrinka then either Tsonga or Nicolas Almagro. I think I like Wawrinka to get through a tough quarter, though the Tsonga-Almagro match, if it happens, should be a good one. Stan’s been playing well this year and on the clay I just feel he’s due to get rewarded. Almagro is the best clay player in the group but having to come from Houston isn’t going to help.
So my initial semifinals look like Djokovic-Berdych, Nadal-Wawrinka. Somehow I think Berdych denies us a rematch of last year by beating Djokovic who’s still not 100% comfortable on the clay. But then it’s all Rafa in the final. Nadal takes it again with no sets lost.
Before then, there are some really intriguing first round matches including Isner-Gulbis (let’s see if Ernie can build off his impressive hardcourt season, or will he fizzle away as usual), Raonic-Benneteau, Dolgopolov-Tomic, Fognini-Seppi (Italians clash), Anderson-Janowicz (big power servers on clay) and Malisse-Dimitrov.
Regarding Djokovic, I have to say I’m surprised he’s playing. That said, I’m not surprised his ankle is OK. But given the busy schedule he’s had the last month and the injury which has limited his clay practice, skipping Monte Carlo wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world in my opinion. If I was in the Djokovic camp it’s not the ankle that would concern me, it’s the schedule. And we know there is a bigger goal late next month. Of course he still could withdrew but it sure seems like he’s intent on playing.
Matches begin tomorrow. I believe Tennis Channel starts up on Monday.
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