ATP Monte Carlo
The clay court season gets into high gear this week in Monte Carlo with the heavy hitters coming out to play. Djokovic, Federer, Nadal & Raonic are your top four seeds this week with Andy Murray off celebrating his honeymoon this week. Nadal’s epic eight year win streak in Monte Carlo ended with Djokovic taking the title in 2013 and last year, Stan Wawrinka surprisingly swiped the hardware as he beat Roger Federer in the Final. Nadal has still been the stud at this tournament career-wise with a 50-3 mark, but he’ll be combating his own nerves this week that he’s admitted have been a detriment to his play the last month or so. Djokovic spots a 23-7 mark here, but has won just the one title. Federer is 27-11 with no titles in Monte Carlo, but five Finals appearances. Raonic is just 5-4 here with his best result coming last year by making the quarterfinals. This though is a better looking and more consistent Raonic, so even on clay he could be a threat.
Rounding out the top eight seeds this week are Ferrer, Berdych, Wawrinka & Cilic. Both Ferrer and Wawrinka have a good track record in Monte Carlo. Ferrer is 24-10 and pulled off the stunning win in the quarters over Nadal last year. Wawrinka is 16-6 all-time at Monte Carlo with last year’s title in his pocket. He has made the quarters at-minimum here the last three years. Of the other seeds in the Top 16, none possess any quality records at this tournament. Robredo at #16 would be the best at 15-10, but he’s never made better than the quarterfinals and that came in 2006.
Planting The Seeds
Only three seeds failed to win their openers in Monte Carlo in 2014. The exact same amount as went out in their 1st ups in 2013. There were four seeds in 2012 that exited in their 1st matches. The majority of those exits in the last three years have come in the 1st round and not on seeds who have byes. So that’s something to chew on as we take a look at the seeds who might be prone to an upset to start this week. 1st Up, 1st Out.
#7 Stan Wawrinka
Yes, Stan is the defending Champion, but he still looks well off his best. Since winning Rotterdam, he’s gone just 2-3. This has been a pretty decent tournament for him lately, but his 1st match is going to be tough. He’ll face either Vesely or Monaco. Vesely played Wawrinka tough at the US Open last year, losing in straights but taking the Swiss to a pair of tie break sets. Stan is 3-0 vs. Monaco, but they have not played each other since 2011.
#8 Marin Cilic
Cilic got a verbal boost from his coach this week who touted that the Croat could win more Grand Slams if he stays healthy. The big question though is whether or not he is fit. Cilic will try to get his 2015 season kick started this week with just one match played, a loss at Indian Wells to Juan Monaco. He will face Florian Mayer who beat Mikhail Youzhny in the 1st round in straight sets. Mayer was working back from his own shoulder issues, but appeared just fine. Cilic has to prove health before anyone should feel comfortable about him grabbing a win.
#9 Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov continued his win one, lose one pace in Miami. That’s now four straight tournaments where that’s been his results. This week, he could agains flirt with one and done status. He faces Verdasco first-up. Verdasco owns a couple wins in three tries over Dimitrov and played reasonably well in making the semis in Houston this past week. Dimitrov has played fairly well in Monte Carlo with a 5-2 mark the last two years. Still, something is off with his game this season – be it a mental block or just lack of good play overall. One of these tournaments, he’s going to get bit in his first match if he does not improve.
#13 Ernests Gulbis
It’s not a week without having Gulbis on this list. He will face off against Haider-Maurer to open. They have split two previous meetings with the Austrian scoring the win on a hard surface at the US Open in 2013, while Gulbis won in three sets on clay in 2012. Haider-Maurer already has some clay court play under his belt with three matches last week in Casablance, while Ernie still has earned just one win all season to the tune of 1-7 overall. He’s 3-5 at Monte Carlo and lost in his 1st match last year.
The Djokovic Quarter looks pretty simplistic for the World #1 this week. He’s got one seed, Cilic, who is just trying to get healthy. He’s got another seed, Gulbis, who can’t get out of his own way to win a match. And the third seed in his quarter, Tsonga, is still working his way to full fitness after missing a good chunk of the season due to an arm issue. There does not appear to be much in the way of Djokovic getting through to the semis. He may not have played all that well in Miami, admitting some mental fatigue, but he’s had some time off and this very workable draw that should give him reason to smile.
The Nadal Quarter will be one that should favor an all-Spanish quarter. David Ferrer awaits on the bottom of the quarter. Nadal should be okay early with either Thiem or Pouille to open, but then things could get tougher. Casablanca Champion Martin Klizan or 15th seed John Isner could be the 3rd round match-up for Rafa. Isner didn’t look great on clay in Houston, but there could be some improvement this week. Ferrer has his own minefield to get through as he’ll face a competent dirtballer in Estrella-Burgos to open. A win there could pit him against one of two Frenchmen, either Simon or Paire. Paire faces fellow qualifier Denis Kudla in what could be a real good 1st round match. The comfy confines of clay should help ease the nerves of Nadal some this week and this looks like it could play to another Nadal-Ferrer quarterfinal showdown. That’s the match where I think Nadal will need to have another gear to win.
The Federer Quarter is home to the Swiss #1 and Swiss #2 as Wawrinka is the lead seed in the top part of this quarter. Federer will see Chardy or Schwartzman to open. Chardy would give Fed a bigger fit than the Argentine as Chardy has taken a set from the Swiss in all three career meetings. He beat Federer last year in Rome, so it’s no gimme that Federer will get through with anything but his best. There are some other great potential matches in this quarter. Monfils opens against Kutznetsov, while Coric and Dolgopolov face off in a fun one if Dog’s foot is close to 100%. I think Federer faces a challenge just to get to the quarters in this part of the bracket with Chardy and Monfils capable of taking him down.
For Wawrinka, it’s also a very tough draw. Vesely or Monaco first up. Survive that and you coukl battle Fognini, Verdasco or Dimitrov just to get to a quarterfinal where Federer is seeded to be your opponent. I really think this quarter will have plenty of upsets to it and I won’t be surprised if both Federer and Wawrinka aren’t in the mix come the quarterfinals. I’d give Fed the better shot to be there because I think his half has some bigger question marks to it with Monfils and Chardy both being a bit fragile mentally.
The Raonic Quarter sees the Canadian open against Sousa or Roger-Vasselin. Robredo is the seed in the bottom part of the quarter who he could see in the 3rd round. Robredo first has to get past Seppi and then either Granollers or Mannarino. I like Robredo to be a sneaky guy in this quarter, so I think he’ll get a shot at Raonic. Milos has proven he can beat him on dirt though with a win over Robredo last year in Monte Carlo and back in 2013 in Barcelona. Up top, it’s Berdych as the 6th seed. An out-of-sorts Roberto Bautista-Agut is opposite of Berdych in that top half of the quarter. Bautista-Agut should have a better run this week with Benjamin Becker to open and then he’ll have Kohlschreiber or Kukushkin. With Kuku retiring from a match last week, let’s say Kohlschreiber. Berdych has to face Carreno-Busta or Stakhovsky first and if it’s Stakhovsky that will be meeting #3 this season. Berdych was won the previous two. Berdych has lost in the 3rd round in three of the last four years in Monte Carlo, so keep that in mind. Even though he wouldn’t seem the likeliest guy to go deep, I think Raonic has a suitable draw to get the semis in this spot.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
Every once in a while, there’s a late surprise with a non-seeded player getting into the semifinals here. For the most part though, this plays like you’d expect a Masters tournament to play with the big boys being in the Championship mix. I think Djokovic is the only lock for the semis though with his draw. Nadal certainly will want to get on the right track this week and at least get to the semis where he could meet Djokovic. In the bottom half, I think your surprises could come. That could be seeing Milos Raonic find a way to the Final or seeing someone not named Federer or Wawrinka in the semis out of that quarter. To me the winner is likely to come from the semifinal that will likely feature either Djokovic vs. Nadal or Djokovic vs. Ferrer. It would be a massive boost for the “field” for anyone to beat Djokovic given his current run of success.