With only one of the 16 seeds failing to reach the third round, it promises to be one of the best line-ups for any Thursday this tennis season. Former champions Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka plus Roger Federer headline a day featuring 12 of the Top 14 players on court, fighting for their life in the first Masters clay event of the season in Monte Carlo.
As for today, Rafael Nadal played what he called was his best match of the year, blowing out a future star in Lucas Pouille 6-2, 6-1. Nadal apparently is also playing with a new racquet, or is he? Would Mr. OCD really switch up his racquets just before the start of the all-important clay season? I’m not sure, but regardless, after a forgettable March he needed a confidence-building win and a he got it.
“I will go back to the hotel with [a] fantastic feeling, because I played probably the best match of the year for me,” Nadal said. “I played with the right mentality [and] the right concentration.”
After three weeks off, Roger Federer showed no rust hammering Jeremy Chardy. A 4-time finalist, Roger’s never won the Monte Carlo title, could this finally be the year?
Stan Wawrinka and a host of seeds also advanced easily in straights leading to Thursday’s blockbuster schedule.
So tomorrow, we have among other matches:
Rafael Nadal v John Isner – It’s the same old story for Isner, can he break serve and scrape out a couple of tiebreaks? Against someone like Nadal on the clay I highly doubt it, but the good news for the improving American is he only needs two sets, not three. So regardless of how well Rafa played in his opener, he won’t be sleeping well tonight.
Roger Federer v Gael Monfils – On clay I just think Monfils plays too far back, too defensively, and the fact he’s coming off injury points me in the direction of Federer who destroyed Chardy today.
“The preparation is different; instead of playing just one hour before a match on clay, this time I had 10 days and I’m better prepared,” Federer said of losing to Monfils in Davis Cup last November. “I feel more confident than I was in Lille.
“Gaël is such a player. He has capacities that other players don’t have, physically, also because of his power on the forehand and the backhand. It is a real challenge to play him. Often the problem is not on your own racquet against him.”
Stan Wawrinka v Grigor Dimitrov – Both guys really like playing in Monte Carlo, but only one is the defending champion and that’s Stan. Grigor desperately needs a top win – he hasn’t beaten anyone since that Andy Murray shock at Wimbledon. I like Stan here in a tough three set battle.
“I think I play a great match,” said Wawrinka of his win today over Juan Monaco. “It’s a tough first round to play Monaco, but it’s a typical clay-court match… playing from the baseline. Over the past two months, [I have had] really difficultly with my game [and] with my confidence. I was happy to come on clay again. The conditions are great here.”
On the second court we have four really even match-ups. On clay I give the slight edge to Tommy Robredo over Milos Raonic. Obviously I’ll go Tomas Berdych to beat RBA, but that could easily go the other way.
JW Tsonga and Marin Cilic is really intriguing as both guys haven’t played much. I’ll lean with Tsonga, and I’ll take David Ferrer in a close contest over Gilles Simon.
“I’m interested to see how it’s going to go,” Simon said of Ferrer. “I feel good right now. If I have no problems before the match, I really want to see how it’s going to be… I really feel I can do something good.”
Not to be left out, top seed Djokovic faces Andreas Haider-Maurer in what should be a one-way affair.
And if the top guys keep winning, the Friday schedule could be even better! Wow!
THURSDAY MONTE CARLO SCHEDULE
COURT CENTRAL start 10:30 am
 S. Wawrinka (SUI) vs  G. Dimitrov (BUL)
Not Before 12:00 noon
 [WC] G. Monfils (FRA) vs  R. Federer (SUI)
 R. Nadal (ESP) vs  J. Isner (USA)
 N. Djokovic (SRB) vs A. Haider-Maurer (AUT)
COURT DES PRINCES start 10:30 am
 T. Robredo (ESP) vs  M. Raonic (CAN)
 T. Berdych (CZE) vs  R. Bautista Agut (ESP)
 J. Tsonga (FRA) vs  M. Cilic (CRO)
 G. Simon (FRA) vs  D. Ferrer (ESP)
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