Federer Skipping Monte Carlo, Nadal Back For More
The clay court season goes into full swing with the first Masters 1000 on the surface for 2017. The tournament will be missing arguably the best player on tour this season in Roger Federer. Fed is likely to skip all clay events until the French Open, something that was not entirely unexpected as he tries to protect his body from the lengthy season. Also MIA this week will be Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios. Nishikori has only played Monte Carlo once in his career, so his exclusion is hardly surprising. Kyrgios decided to stay away this week to rest after a heavy schedule lately that included leading Australia into the Davis Cup semifinals.
While those names are missing, the big boys are back together this week with Andy Murray leading the field as the top seed. The Scot is a three-time semifinalist in Monte Carlo, including last year. He has never won this tournament. Second seed Novak Djokovic is a two time winner, one of two players to break up Rafael Nadal’s dynasty in Monte Carlo. Djokovic won in 2013 and 2015. Rafa has won this tournament an astounding nine times in the past 12 years, including the 2016 title. He’s in as the fourth seed. The other outsider who snuck in a championship was Stan Wawrinka in 2014. The Swiss is in the field this week as the third seed.
The Spaniard holds a marvelous 58-4 record in Monte Carlo all-time. He has the nine titles to his credit and he’s made ten finals in the last 12 years. Last year marked a return to the throne in Monte Carlo after missing out on a title win since 2012. Outside of Federer, Nadal has been producing the most consistent results of anyone on tour. He’s 19-5 this season with three of those losses to the Swiss Maestro. Rafa has made the final in three of the five tournaments he has played this season, but he’s yet to hoist a trophy above his head. That could change this week.
The list of contenders is short in most Masters events. Of the past 63, 56 have been won by Murray, Djokovic, Federer or Nadal. Only Wawrinka and this week’s 9th seed, Tomas Berdych, have even played the final in Monte Carlo. The rest of the seeds have yet to make significant dents at this tournament outside of a pair of semifinal runs by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2013 and 2016. Tsonga has had a solid year at 17-4, but has not played since Indian Wells due to the birth of his first child.
Early Bird Specials
The good news for the seeds is that in recent times, Monte Carlo has yielded few early upsets. Last year saw just two seeds lose their openers, but it was the massive shocker that stole the headlines with top seed Novak Djokovic stunned by Jiri Vesely. In the three years prior to 2016, a total of seven seeds have lost their first match. To put that under the microscope, that means that just eight players out of 64 in the last four years have been sent packing in their openers.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what might be a short list of early upsets.
2, Novak Djokovic
Despite a 10-1 mark against his first opponent, Gilles Simon, Djokovic must be on this list. He skipped Miami due to elbow problems and the lingering concerns that his health, both physically and mentally, is less than 100 percent has to be factored into play. Anyone can see that something is not right with the Serb at this point in the season. Playing into the mental health angle here is last year’s loss to Vesely. It still ranks as a top ten all-time upset. Djokovic did win in Davis Cup play since sitting on Miami, but was reportedly still feeling some discomfort in his elbow. Having to grind out a win against someone like Simon isn’t normally a difficult ask for Djokovic, but these days, nothing appears easy for the Serb.
5. Marin Cilic
An easy inclusion on this list as the Croat continues to struggle this season at just 5-7 overall. He has lost his opener in four of seven tournaments he has played this season. Cilic will get the survivor of Borna Coric vs Jeremy Chardy. Chardy would be the tougher task with Cilic holding a 4-0 advantage over Coric, but standing at 2-2 against Chardy. This is Cilic’s first trip back to Monte Carlo since a 2015 quarterfinal run.
9. Tomas Berdych
Berdych did make the final in 2015 in Monte Carlo, but he followed that up by a first-up loss to Damir Dzumhur last year. In three of the last four years, Berdych has failed to win back-to-back matches at this tournament. He has played reasonably well this season at 13-6. He will face qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov. The Russian took him to a final set tiebreak in St.Petersburg in their lone meeting last year with Berdych edging out the win.
13. Pablo Carreno Busta
The lack of luck of the draw pits PCB against Fabio Fognini in round one. That’s rough. The plus for the Spaniard is that he’s 4-0 against the Italian with two clay court wins, including earlier this year in Sao Paulo. Fognini arrives this week after making the semifinals in Miami Monte Carlo has been hugely hit or miss for Fognini with a semifinal run in 2013, but a poor loss to Paolo Lorenzi in the opening round last year. You never know what you’ll get from Fognini and that’s what always makes him dangerous, even against someone who has beaten him four out of four times.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Andy Murray (1)
Marin Cilic (5)
Tomas Berdych (9)
Albert Ramos Vinolas (15)
Murray will hope he’s had enough time to recover from a hugely disappointing loss to Vasek Pospisil in Indian Wells. I won’t expect a hangover as Indian Wells has been a Murray death trap lately. Monte Carlo has been better to him recently with his increased prowess on dirt. He made the semifinals last year for the third time in his career. This is definitely a winnable quarter for the world number one. He opens with Gilles Muller or Tommy Robredo. Robredo might be the bigger trouble on this surface with the Spaniard always at his best on this surface.
Ramos and Kohlschreiber look the likeliest to get in Murray’s way to a quarterfinal. Kohlschreiber might suffer from the old championship hangover though after a difficult loss to Borna Coric in the Grand Prix Hassan final in Marrakech on Sunday. Carlos Berlocq could pick the German off in round one. The bottom of the quarter looks open with struggler Marin Cilic as the lead seed along with Berdych. Berdych has a tough road if he survives Kuznetsov in round one, he would face Tommy Haas or Benoit Paire. Paire made a Challenger final on clay and then followed with a semifinal run in Marrakech. He’s 0-2 vs Berdych, but always capable of springing an upset if switched on.
Berdych and Haas had some legendary clashes back in the day on grass and clay (five setters at Wimbledon & Davis Cup). Haas finally got his first win of 2017 last week in Houston and showed decently against Jack Sock in a three set loss. Both could pose a risk to Berdych. Cilic gets Marrakech champ Coric or Jeremy Chardy and looks ripe for the upset. The bottom of his quarter definitely looks as if it could open up some. There’s usually a non-seed that sneaks into the quarterfinals in this tournament and it would not be shocking to see this part of the draw produce that opposite of Murray.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Stan Wawrinka (3)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (7)
Lucas Pouille (11)
Pablo Cuevas (16)
Wawrinka is 19-8 in Monte Carlo and he has been a steady performer here since 2009. He won the title in 2014 and has made the quarters or better four more times in the span. His half of the quarter has only Cuevas as a seed to contend against. Wawrinka will open with either Mischa Zverev or Jiri Vesely. Vesely just beat Zverev in Marrakech in straights and did well to make the semifinals, where he lost to Coric. Wawrinka owns a win over Vesely in straight sets at the 2014 U.S. Open. but this could be tougher with Vesely playing well.
Cuevas opens against Viktor Troicki, who is 3-0 against the 16th seed in their careers. All three meetings have come on hard surfaces however. On clay, Cuevas is the better talent and has a title to his credit on the surface earlier this year in Brazil. Last year was Cuevas’ first main draw participating in Monte Carlo, where he went 1-1, losing a three setter to Milos Raonic in the second round. Troicki isn’t totally lost on clay as he did make the semifinals here back in 2011, but you’d expect Cuevas to find a way.
The bottom half features the two Frenchmen as the seeds with Tsonga and Pouille. Tsonga as mentioned will be returning to tour for the first time in more than a month. He will need to play well to beat either Adrian Mannarino or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his opener, but will be the obvious favorite to advance. Pouille got a needed win in Davis Cup play after being dumped out of both Indian Wells and Miami by Donald Young. Pouille’s best finish was making the round of 16 here last year. He opens with Ryan Harrison and then could have a tough time against Paolo Lorenzi or Marcel Granollers. Pouille has met Lorenzi once, a tough three set win in Bucharest last year. Both Lorenzi and Granollers can spring an upset on clay.
Tsonga has the pedigree at this tournament and the form earlier this year to be in the quarterfinal mix, if he can get off to a good start. Wawrinka might be a bit shaky early, but if he gets out of the first few rounds – he’ll have a legit shot to not just get through this quarter, but perhaps through this half of the draw and into the final.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Rafael Nadal (4)
Grigor Dimitrov (8)
Roberto Bautista Agut (12)
Alexander Zverev (14)
All eyes will be on Nadal this week. The defending champion has been playing well this season and will have his focus on dominating his surface. With Murray and Djokovic still showing vulnerabilities and Federer skipping out, Nadal is the main man. His domination here should give him the confidence necessary to come in with some swagger. He’ll play one of two Brits first, either Daniel Evans or Kyle Edmund. That should afford him to get off to a comfortable start. Zverev is the other seed in Rafa’s half and the obvious danger. Zverev starts with Andreas Seppi, so he’ll need to be steady to win. Survival there would see Zverev play either Feliciano Lopez or Daniil Medvedev for a likely shot at Nadal.
The other half of the quarter is led by Dimitrov and Bautista Agut as the seeds. Dimitrov has cooled a bit since a red hot start to the season, but should have a chance to do some damage with this draw. He’ll face qualifier Jan-Lennard Struff or wildcard Casper Ruud to start. That won’t be easy, but it’s a match he needs to win. RBA has made back-to-back round of 16 showings in Monte Carlo and could match that. He starts with Nikoloz Basilashvili. A win could set him up against Diego Schwartzman. The Argentine plays “Lost Boy” Bernard Tomic. Tomic is 2-6 this season and has a pretty harsh clay allergy at 17-31 during his ATP career. Schwartzman should win. Don’t be shocked if the Argentine pushes RBA to be his best or go home early.
Dimitrov has made the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo in 2013 and 2015. The odd-year could see him match that. The match of the quarter should be Nadal vs Zverev, if it comes to fruition. Their two meetings have been terribly entertaining with Rafa winning in five sets in Melbourne this year and somehow fighting off Zverev in Indian Wells last year when Sascha had the match on his racquet. Overall, you have to like Nadal in this quarter.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Novak Djokovic (2)
Dominic Thiem (6)
David Goffin (10)
Pablo Carreno Busta (13)
Djokovic’s potential injury woes make this quarter vert interesting. There is some great talent among the seeds with #10 David Goffin already through to round two after an easy win over Steve Darcis on Sunday. Djokovic is 28-8 in Monte Carlo, but the Vesely loss last year and his questionable health right now make him an iffy proposition to get through here. Certainly if he’s feeling more fit, then this gets more interesting. Either way, Djokovic has a difficult path to get out of this quarter. He has Simon to open and then likely Carreno Busta or Fognini to get to a quarterfinal. There, he could see Thiem or Goffin. Nothing easy on tap for the Serb.
As for the half with Thiem and Goffin, Thiem has a bit easier path due to the bye. He’ll get Federico Delbonis or Robin Haase to start. Thiem made the round of 16 last year in MC after a couple of first round flameouts. Clay suits him. Goffin will have the tougher time with either Martin Klizan or Nicolas Almagro next round. Almagro owns three wins over Goffin, although all were in 2012-2013. Their last clash was at Roland Garros in 2016 where the Belgian survived in five. Klizan and Almagro have split two meetings on clay and neither is in great form. Klizan did get through qualifying though, while Almagro will be searching for his first win since January when he takes the court. Edge Klizan.
If we get Thiem vs Goffin in the round of 16, it will be the 9th career meeting with Goffin ahead 5-3. Three career meetings on clay though have seen Thiem edge Goffin, 2-1. The winner there could well be the favorite to get through to the semis if Djokovic is still sputtering. Keep an eye on Carreno Busta here too. He’s kind of the forgotten guy of the seeds with all the big names, but he’s very good on this surface. I’d look to Thiem or Djokovic here though most likely with too many question marks around Djokovic to feel comfortable saying he should get it done.
Non-seeds traditionally are not big players in the business end in Monte Carlo. Fognini was the last unseeded player to make it as far as the semifinals here and that came in 2013. Since then, just unseeded players have made it as far as the quarterfinals. There are some players who could fit the bill of unseeded quarterfinalist this week. As highlighted above, look to Quarter #1 where Berdych and Cilic look vulnerable. Coric, Chardy and Paire could find their way with Coric as the in-form best shot to do so. It it happens elsewhere, it could be Fognini again. He’ll have to beat Carreno Busta just to get to round two and still might have Djokovic in his way to a quarterfinal. It’s Fabio though, so who knows. He could go home on the first day or make a run.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
This is a statement week. Yes, there is still plenty of time before the French Open, but this is someone’s chance to stake claim to momentum as we hit the next six weeks to Roland Garros. Nadal looks the part of the favorite this week, especially without his 2017 road block, Roger Federer, to contend with in Monte Carlo. Certainly we shouldn’t discount Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, but the latter has a lot of questions to answer before he can be considered a top tier contender this week.
Murray could set up nicely in his half to at least pop his cherry on making a final here, but could have Wawrinka as the major speed bump on his path. If there is a lower seed that could make noise this week, think new Daddy Tsonga or Dominic Thiem. In the end, I’ll be mainstream this week in thinking that Nadal can get on the board with his first title of 2017 and 10th in Monte Carlo.