The clay season beings in earnest on Sunday on the shores of the Medditerean in Monte Carlo. Race No. 1 Roger Federer won’t be there but after missing Miami, the top two in the world — according to rankings — will be. Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic are back along with Stan Wawrinka as the trio try to thwart Rafael Nadal’s bid to defend his title and win a 10th Monte Carlo crown.
Looking for some outsiders? There’s Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and perhaps Pablo Carreno Busta. Otherwise, an all-Top 4 seeded final is the clear bet here.
So to the draw.
Andy Murray Quarter
Murray’s back however how well he is physically following an elbow injury remains to be seen. Murray made the semifinals in Monte Carlo last year losing to Rafa and two other times, but overall hasn’t played that well. It’s arguably his worst Masters event on the calendar. So that and the unknown of his injury gives me some pause. But his draw doesn’t. Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo to start, then potentially Ramos-Vinolas followed by either Tomas Berdych or Marin Cilic is real nice road and it should allow him to work out the kinks and get his serve going, assuming he’s healthy! If not, maybe Berdych gets through?
The Pick: Andy Murray
Stan Wawrinka Quarter
Stan won this title back in 2014 — to this day still his lone Masters win. And I think he’ll do well again this year because, like Murray, he also has a great draw. There’s the serve-and-volley Zverev or Jiri Vesely, who can be tough (just ask Novak), followed by Pablo Cuevas, and then a Frenchmen in either Lucas Pouille or JW Tsonga who maybe isn’t tournament tough after having his first child. So unless Tsonga or Pouille get hot, I like Stan.
The Pick: Stan Wawrinka
Rafael Nadal Quarter
OK, the top half looks pretty boring, but now the fun begins. Yes, Rafa is the favorite and yes, I’m going to pick him to win the title, but I think it’s going to be tough. If the draw holds, he’ll have to beat Zverev and then Dimitrov to get to the semifinals. Both should be stern tests as they each were in Australia. And there are a couple of other youngsters in there as well with Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud. Both could be Masters champions someday. But for now, Rafa played well on the hardcourt so I don’t expect any letdown on the clay. Maybe he drops a set here or there, struggles to close out a match, but it’s clay…
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic Quarter
Is Novak Djokovic the most intriguing player in this draw? You could make the case! A year ago he was dominating tennis. Now? No titles, no finals since Doha and no real signs of a return to the glory days. He missed Miami with an elbow, came back for Davis Cup where he survived an early first set scare from Medvedev. Says he’s refreshed, but do you believe him? So it’s just a guess as to what level Djokovic is at. He is a 2-time Monte Carlo champion and I don’t expect a repeat of the shocker last year to Vesely. But he could face Gilles Simon in his opener, followed by Carreno Busta and then potentially Thiem, unless David Goffin knocks the Austrian out. And if Thiem is playing up to par on the clay and Djokovic is still in his funk, then I think Dominic gets through. Just on form, I think I have to take the upset.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem
Wawrinka d Murray: Stan to tough for Murray who hasn’t hit his stride.
Nadal d Thiem: Rafa overwhelms the Austrian.
Nadal d Wawrinka: Rafa wins his 10th Monte Carlo and also his first title in a year.
Again, Novak is really the x-factor here. Which Djokovic shows up? And can Rafa still get the job done? He played well but came up just short on the hardcourts. Now the expectations are there and his draw could be very tough with Zverev-Dimitrov-Djokovic-Wawrinka/Murray to win the title. That’s going to take a lot of work.
Of course Rafa’s done that before, but he’s just not as good as he once was and I want to see him run that gauntlet and finally get another title. Let’s see him handle those nerves. And I know he’s won this event nine times, but only once in the last four years.
Matches begin on Sunday. Happy Easter weekend everyone!
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