The clay season officially opens tomorrow in Monte Carlo with our first European Masters of the year. Three of the Big Four will be together again with only Andy Murray taking a miss due to his wedding today (congrats Andy). With the way the draw unfolded, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal could meet in the semifinals a week from today. How about that!
So on to the draw…
He’s a former champion, he’s won his last 12 matches and he’s got a real cushy draw, so there’s really no reason that top seed Novak Djokovic shouldn’t get through this section. Nicolas Almagro poses some risk in the second round, maybe JW Tsonga also if the Frenchman can get hot again, but otherwise nothing stands out except a Djokovic romp here. The biggest threats Almagro, Tsonga and Marin Cilic all coming off injury.
“It’s always exciting to play a tournament in the place where you spend most of your time when you’re not in the tournaments,” said Djokovic, who has lived in Monaco for almost eight years. “It’s a bike ride or a walk to the tennis club from my home, so it really is a special feeling.
“After the great run that I had in Indian wells and Miami, I couldn’t ask for a better start to the season, and hopefully I will be able to turn that confidence from the first three or four months of the year into this week. It takes time to adjust as any other switch from different surfaces. I think the key point is movement, to really get your muscles used to harder, more demanding physical work.”
The pick: Djokovic
And in the same half as Djokovic is where we find 8-time winner Rafael Nadal. What a semifinal that would be. Maybe the match of the year to date. But first Nadal has to get through a couple tricky rounds. Dominic Thiem, who’s been practicing with Roger Federer of late, could there in the second, then the dangerous John Isner, who no one wants to plays (remember he took Nadal to 5 at the French Open!) or Viktor Troicki, and then David Ferrer in the quarters. With Nadal’s confidence in the dumper, certainly Isner or Troicki could get him in a couple breakers. If not, Ferrer could beat him like he did a year ago in Barcelona. But I think Nadal’s desire gets him through. He has to be super motivated to do well this week and he’s had a great history at the event.
The pick: Nadal
Doesn’t it seem like Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic end up in the same section all the time? Maybe it’s me. But two of the toughest guys in the Top 10 to watch play tennis are together in this section and apart from a Tommy Robredo upset or Phil Kohlschreiber shock, I expect these two autobots to bump into each in the quarters. On the clay, I give a slight edge to Berdych.
The pick: Berdych
The fourth quarter is all about the fun. Look who we have: Roger Federer, defending champion Stan Wawrinka, Juan Monaco, Jeremy Chardy, Fabio Fognini, Gael Monfils, Borna Coric, Roberto Bautista Agut, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Grigor Dimitrov who plays Fernando Verdasco in the first round! They could just break off this quarter from draw and make a second event and people would fill the stands. I like Stan to make to his quarter over the Dimitrov/Verdasco winner.
“Last year was really special for me, it was my first Masters 1000,” said Wawrinka. “Beating Roger in the final, [it] was an amazing week, so I’m really happy to be back in the tournament. It’s a special tournament and I think all the players enjoy playing here.”
As for his opponent? I guess I’ll take Federer, though Chardy’s been tough for him and someone like the Dog could get hot. And emerging in a 3-set thriller…
The pick: Federer
Semifinals: Nadal d Djokovic, Berdych d Federer
I know Nadal’s down and Djokovic is the hot guy, but I just have to think Rafa’s going to get back into form here and maybe, just maybe, Djokovic is a little tired after the arduous hardcourt swing – though the “home cooking” draw should help! I also like that Nadal would probably have to get past Ferrer to make the semi. Playing Ferrer should allow Rafa to get into that clay groove the Spaniards love. That could be vital if was coming off a win over say Isner. So Nadal over a fatiguing Djokovic…
Speaking of fatigue, I think at 33, Federer has a tough time recovering from a bruising QF win over Stan allowing Berdych to sneak out a win. If Roger has an easy first week then he’ll beat Tomas, but to me his draw is a little treacherous and Stan won’t be an easy out. I know he’s rested after missing Miami, but a couple of long matches – if he has them – could add up.
Final: Nadal d Berdych
Matches begin Sunday. Top seeds won’t be on court until Tuesday I believe.
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