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13 Apr 2018

Monte Carlo Masters preview and prediction: Clay court season begins in earnest

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Who’s playing?

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First round matches to watch?

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Prediction

(Photo credit: Vincent Lextrait)

With the 2018 tennis season well underway, attention turns to Europe, with the clay courts taking centre stage. With the French Open looming large on the horizon, the game’s best have assembled in Monte Carlo ready to compete for the first of the three clay court Masters 1000s. Contested at the scenic Monte Carlo Country Club in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin just outside Monaco, it’s a draw filled with intrigue. But who will end the week on top?

Who’s playing?

Rafael Nadal, the ten time champion and world #1, leads the draw in Monte Carlo. The Spaniard was dominant last year on clay and has typically been head-and-shoulders above the rest on the surface throughout his career. But due to a troublesome leg injury, he hasn’t played since retiring from his quarterfinal with Marin Cilic at the Australian Open. Where his game is at is unclear, and if he fails to defend his title in Monte Carlo his position as world #1 could be in serious danger. But, such is his quality and history at the event, it would be no surprise to see him lift the title once again.

Two-time former champion Novak Djokovic finds himself in an unfamiliar position in Monte Carlo as he is without a first round bye. It has been a wretched period for the 12-time Grand Slam champion, as he has struggled with form and fitness, undergoing minor surgery on his elbow after the Australian Open. Now he has reunited with former coach Marian Vajda, for the time being at least. It was under the Slovakian that Djokovic experienced his greatest successes, and he will be desperate to get the good times rolling once more, but faces an extremely tough draw.

Seeded second is Marin Cilic. His season began well as he reached the Australian Open final putting in a valiant effort in a five-set defeat to Roger Federer. But since then his form has rather tailed off. He also doesn’t much enjoy the clay, with his best effort at Monte Carlo being two quarterfinals. Third seed Alexander Zverev was on the receiving end of a Nadal hammering last year in Monte Carlo, but has since won two Masters titles, and will be looking to build on his final showing in Miami.

Fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov managed just four victories during the entire clay court season last year, suggesting he may not be an imminent title threat. His season has not yet taken off with his results during the Sunshine Double doubtless a source of particular disappointment. Fifth seeded Dominic Thiem was the only man to get a win against Nadal on the ‘terre battue’ last year, but comes into Monte Carlo short of match sharpness after nearly two months out injured.

David Goffin reached the semifinals in Monte Carlo last year, upsetting Djokovic en route, but his season suffered a set back after a freak accident in Rotterdam left him with an eye injury that has taken him time to overcome. But he has the quality to trouble anyone. Rounding out the top eight seeds are Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who also made the last four in 2017, and Pablo Carreno Busta who will be relishing the return to his favoured surface.

First round matches to watch?

Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori are doubtless more used to facing off in finals than first rounds. But the Japanese’s lengthy injury lay offs and Tomas Berdych’s decline in form have led to just that. It should be a high quality encounter between two players who though not now at their best, have deservedly spent most of their careers in the top ten and have the ability to match. Berdych will back himself to get by Nishikori who is still finding his feet back on Tour, but don’t expect it to be easy for the Czech.

Alexandr Dolgopolov rarely fails to entertain on a tennis court. However, he will have to be at his best if he wants to get past the big-hitting Briton, Kyle Edmund. Edmund, who began his year with a thrilling run to the Australian Open semifinals, gave Nadal a run for his money in Monte Carlo last year but has lost both of his previous meetings with Dolgopolov. But both of those matches were played on grass and Edmund will likely feel the slower clay court conditions will favour him.

Prediction

With so many unknowns coming into the tournament this year, it’s almost impossible to predict who will lift the title at the end of the week. Under normal circumstances one would expect Nadal and Djokovic, who between them have dominated clay court tennis for nearly a decade, to be favourites, particularly the former. But with neither looking likely to be at full sharpness, Zverev may well see an opportunity for himself to secure even more Masters glory.

Who do you think will triumph in Monte Carlo? Let us know in the comments below!