Storylines are aplenty as the red clay season officially begins Sunday in Monte Carlo, site of the third Masters Series stop of the season.
Novak Djokovic won the first two Masters losing just one single set. And as defending champion and winner two of the last three years, there’s little debate who the favorite is next week. That includes Rafael Nadal.
Monte Carlo is arguably Rafa’s best event outside of Roland Garros, however the 8-time Monte Carlo champ hasn’t won there since 2012 and based on his recent regression there’s little to believe he can buck that downward trend. And Not against a loaded field like Monte Carlo.
And then there’s Roger Federer. After a false start in Miami, Federer is set to return from knee surgery in Monte Carlo, where he’s never won finishing runner-up four times.
Andy Murray has also never won Monte Carlo, nor has he made the finals there. But after a disappointing March, let’s see what the new father can do.
Now to the draw.
Novak Djokovic Quarter
Djokovic has been so dominant of late there really is no bad draw anymore is there? But Djokovic, who calls Monte Carlo home, does have a tricky one here with former semifinalist Gael Monfils in the third round, then a dangerous quarterfinal among a group of worthy foes. Arguably the toughest section of the draw features David Ferrer, Alexander Zverev, David Goffin, Feliciano Lopez and Fernando Verdasco. Wow! I like Ferrer to survive and then the easy pick of Djokovic over Ferrer.
The pick: Djokovic
Roger Federer Quarter
I don’t expect big things from Roger in his first event back. He’s never won in Monte Carlo either. So odds are stacked, the draw, though, isn’t. There are some tough customers in Thomaz Bellucci or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez from the get go. Then Roberto Bautista Agut followed by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Richard Gasquet. I kind of like Gasquet here to beat Tsonga and then knock out Federer. Though picking the Frenchman rarely works out. I’m just not convinced Federer will be in tip top form to take advantage.
The pick: Gasquet
Rafael Nadal Quarter
The toughest overall quarter features two former champions, Nadal and Stan Wawrinka. After an up-and-down season, Wawrinka is due for a good week at the site of his only Masters crown. But also in the mix is Dominic Thiem who could clash with Nadal in the third round in what is for me the match of the early rounds. That’s a tough one to call, but in the end I like Wawrinka to get through Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov and then likely Nadal to return to the semis.
The pick: Wawrinka
Andy Murray Quarter
Probably the easiest section of the draw features no player who’s made the finals. And really, Murray’s only threat is Tomas Berdych or Milos Raonic in the quarterfinals. This early in the clay season I’ll tab Berdych to beat Raonic and then take out Murray to make his second straight Monte Carlo semifinal.
The pick: Berdych
Djokovic over Gasquet – Straightforward for the Serb.
Wawrinka over Berdych – Maybe a tough 3-setter.
Djokovic over Wawrinka – a preview of the French Open final?
Again, this has the feel of “just hand Novak the trophy now”! That could change next month when guys are more in form, but right now there’s little to believe a Federer, Murray or Nadal can find that level needed this early in the clay season and knock off Djokovic.
Then again, maybe Djokovic falters? He could. He’s due for a slip.
I’m also interested in how Federer plays on that knee. And all eyes on Nadal as he returns to his beloved clay. Matches begin Sunday.
Last 5 Monte Carlo Finals:
2011 Rafael Nadal d. David Ferrer 6–4, 7–5
2012 Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic 6–3, 6–1
2013 Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6–2, 7–6(7–1)
2014 Stan Wawrinka d. Roger Federer 4–6, 7–6(7–5), 6–2
2015 Novak Djokovic d. Tomas Berdych 7–5, 4–6, 6–3
Monte Carlo Titles Leaders (In draw)
Rafael Nadal 8
Novak Djokovic 2
Stan Wawrinka 1
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