The clay is here! And that mean’s Rafa time. So the question for the 2,034th straight year, is…can anyone stop Rafael Nadal? With his rivals either injured, on vacation or busy firing coaches, the only answer to that question is no, no?
Well, there is a catch. Nadal is coming off a hip injury which was supposed to be ok for Indian Wells/Miami but it wasn’t. He looked good at Davis Cup last weekend so hopefully that ailment is in the past, and if it is that spells bad news for everyone else.
Nadal will now set his sights on an 11th Monte Carlo crown, so on to the draw…
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
Talk about a loaded section. Rafa’s drawn with Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and he could open against big Russian Karen Khachanov. Djokovic and Thiem could meet in the third round, that’s if Djokovic can get past Borna Coric, which is a huge question mark. Regardless, I like Thiem but I like Nadal more. It’s a very, very tough section, but it’s Rafa.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
GRIGOR DIMITROV QUARTER
With arguably the two favorites in once section – Nadal and Thiem, plus Djokovic – the rest of the draw is a little thin, and that includes Grigor Dimitrov’s section. The struggling Bulgarian has lost 4 of his last 5 but finds himself again in the role of favorite to come out of his quarter. Goffin probably would be my guy here, but he’s still returning from an eye injury, next up from there are maybe Albert Ramos Vinolas or Roberto Bautista Agut. Ramos Vinolas made the finals last year, so he has the points pressure, but Dimitrov hasn’t impressed me and RBA plays his best on hard, so…
The pick: Albert Ramos Vinolas
ALEXANDER ZVEREV QUARTER
Despite gagging in the Miami final, hey, at least Alexander Zverev got there! And he’s the pick in this section which includes Lucas Pouille, Diego Schwartzman and Fabio Fognini. Richard Gasquet is also in there and so too in the intriguing Canadian teen Felix Auger Aliassime who, courtesy of a wildcard, opens against Zverev’s big brother, Mischa. But I think this comes down to Zverev, Fognini or Schwartzman. With his firepower, Zverev should win – remember, he won the last clay Masters at Rome! – but in an upset I’ll lean to the little man from Argentina, Schwartzman, to derail 2017 semifinalist Pouille and then stun the German.
The Pick: Diego Schwartzman
MARIN CILIC QUARTER
Maybe the pick of the first round is in the final quarter, and that’s Tomas Berdych against Kei Nishikori. While I don’t think either will ultimately contend for the title, it’s a brutal first rounder. And it’s inside a very tricky section with Pablo Carreno Busta, Milos Raonic, Daniil Medvedev, Marin Cilic and Pablo Cuevas who opens with Fernando Verdasco is another good one. So who’s the favorite? If you asked five different people you could get five different answers. But I’m going to side with Carreno Busta. I think the Spaniards are going to have a big start and I think he gets through Berdych and Cilic. Though, we could see anyone come out of here.
The Pick: Pablo Carreno Busta
Nadal d Ramos Vinolas – Rematch from 2017 final goes the same way in the semifinals.
Schwartzman d PCB – What the heck, Inser and Sock have Masters titles, so…
Nadal d Schwartzman – #11 for Rafa.
With Rafa soon to be 32, could this be the last big clay season for the legend? I think so. I think this is it. Knees, hips, wrists, ect. This could very well be Nadal last Monte Carlo title. That’s just my feeling.
But he’s still the favorite and anyone other than him winning it would be a total shock.
Of course, Djokovic is going to be a big story next week. He needs a decent result after dumping Agassi/Stepanek and I think going back to Marian Vajda should help. But I just don’t know how much is left in that gas tank. It seems to me Djokovic is just fried.
And let’s see how Zverev fares. He just made the Miami final and won the last Masters on clay.
That said, next week servers as a great measuring stick for guys like Djokovic, Thiem, Dimitrov and others to see how they stack up against Rafa, should they meet.
But again, with so many sadly not here – Roger Federer, Juan Martin Del Potro, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, John Isner, JW Tsonga, Gael Monfils and Kevin Anderson, there a lot of opportunity for a guys like a Schwartzman. Let’s see is Nadal can restore order or if the trend of the first-time, surprise Masters winners continues.
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