Lucas Pouille or Albert Ramos-Vinolas will make history with their first career Masters 1000 final. They meet in the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters semifinals on Saturday to decide which one of them puts his stamp into the history books. Pouille won their only previous meetings, a straight sets win on hard court in Auckland in 2015.
(11) Lucas Pouille vs (15) Albert Ramos-Vinolas
Pouille won with a wild ride against (16) Pablo Cuevas in the quarterfinals on Friday. After bageling Cuevas in the opening set, Pouille had trouble landing his first serve in the second that at just 39 percent. That allowed Cuevas plenty of play off the Frenchman’s second serve and he used that to his advantage to take set two, 6-3. The third set seemed like it was played on the agitator in a washing machine with Pouille earning a break lead, only to give it back and then ultimately see Cuevas serve for the match at 5-4. Cuevas could not convert as he was broken for the 6th time in the match to push it to 5-5. He would be broken for the 7th time off ten chances to help Pouille close the match 6-0, 3-6, 7-5.
Pouille was able to save eight break points off 12 chances overall. His serve wasn’t all that steady, winning 69 percent off his first and 48 percent off his second. He only landed 49 percent of his first serves in the match, which allowed Cuevas those chances for second serve points. It’s been a trouble spot for the Frenchman all week. He landed just 35 percent in his opener against Ryan Harrison, 54 percent against Paolo Lorenzi and 40 percent against Adrian Mannarino who retired after three games. Pouille can’t continue to live like that and expect to keep advancing.
Ramos-Vinolas continued his upset streak on Friday. A day after stopping number one seed Andy Murray, he took down 5th seed Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2 in the quarterfinals. Ramos-Vinolas was consistent, yet not overpowering again on serve. He would win 61 percent off both his 1st and 2nd serves, about in line with the rest of his week. ARV managed to face just five break points, saving three. He ate up the weaker second serve of Cilic in the win, taking 60 percent of the points played. The Spaniard broke Cilic six times on 12 chances. For the week, ARV has converted a staggering 24 breaks of serve on 47 chances.
Pouille: Lefty Allergy or Allergic to The Donald?
For his career, Pouille is a shade above .500 against lefties, but his two most troubling losses of late came to the same left hander – Donald Young aka the one true Donald. Pouille was picked apart by the American in three sets in Indian Wells and then in straights the following week in Miami. Pouille did see a little bit of lefty action this week against Adrian Mannarino, but his countryman lasted just three games in that match.
As for Pouille’s lefty struggles, it could just be that Young’s game frustrates him. After all, this is the same Pouille who famously upset Rafael Nadal in five sets at last year’s U.S. Open. Following that, he beat Fernando Verdasco and went 1-1 against Feliciano Lopez to fill out his southpaw slate in 2016. Ramos-Vinolas brings a different look than Young and is by far, a much more accomplished dirt baller. He’s 15-5 now on clay this season alone. That should be the more troubling thing when looking at this match-up, ARV is very good on clay.
The R in A-R-V Must Stand for Rally
This week, by far Ramos-Vinolas’ best quality has been his mental approach to the game. He’s been down big to Andy Murray (4-0 in set three) and found a way to win. He blew a 5-3 lead in the set two tiebreak against Marin Cilic on Friday and fell behind 2-0 in the third. Ramos-Vinolas, found a way to rally and win. Don’t discount that factor in looking at this match-up. While he won’t want to put himself in position to need one of those miracle rallies again, he knows he can do it.
I think it’s imperative for Pouille to find better consistency with his first serve. Landing under 50 percent again is going to be a clear indicator of peril for the 11th seed. He averages around 55 percent on the season, so he needs to be in that area to take advantage of what is a pretty solid serve usually. It is one that allows him to earn some cheaper points off his first serve, when it’s right and in rhythm. Ramos-Vinolas will need to take care of his own serve too with Pouille ranking as one of the best on tour this season in converting breaks at 45 percent coming into the week. That’s top ten on tour. He’s been even better than that percentage this week with 16 breaks on 29 chances.
Off the ground, both players do generally abide by the the golden rule of our modern era – baseline tennis. Both though do possess the ability to come forward and have shown a good mix of aggressive decision making in doing so this week at opportune moments. Pouille has great technique off his ground strokes with a powerful forehand and a solid backhand to boot. He generally gets into more trouble on the backhand side, when he chooses to become to passive with that shot. I think if Pouille has his choice, he’d rather blast a forehand any day.
As for ARV, he won’t match Pouille in the power category. The lefty is more of a crafty type with solid groundies, but not generally any particular shot that will invoke a fear of his power. He does a good job though in working his opponents around the court and does possess good precision from what I have seen off both wings, when he’s on his game. So you’ll expect to see Pouille “go for it” more in rallies with power shots to end points. Ramos-Vinolas will attempt to move Pouille into bad court positions and then take advantage at the end of those rallies. It should be a fun watch to see who executes their game plan better.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
It’s hard to argue against Ramos-Vinolas with what he has produced this week. He has shown grit and determination against some very good competition. Pouille meanwhile looks to still be lacking a gear to me. Consistency has eluded him in the first third of the season and has led to some mediocre results outside of a mini-run in February in Moselle and Dubai in back-to-back weeks. Pouille certainly possesses the talent to win on this surface, but for me, Ramos-Vinolas has the better exection right now on clay.
He’s not going to wow you with power, but you’ll look up at the scoreboard and see that he’s ahead due to solid tactics on this surface. He’s going to try to keep the pace slower I think and get Pouille to work into some longer baseline rallies, where he’ll hope that frustration leads the Frenchman to making errors. Pouille can certainly take this match if he ups his serve and produces better off the ground than we’ve seen, but I think it’s the Spaniard who gets it done.
Prediction: Ramos-Vinolas wins in three sets