Monte Carlo 2013 recap

This is a guest post by Ruari Grant. This post was also published on the AndBeThere blog. You can connect to us via:

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As always, I would like to thanks Tennis-Buzz.

Following Nadal’s unexpected win in Indian Wells a month ago, as I said here it was beginning to look ominous for the rest of the tour regarding the fast-approaching clay court season. However on Sunday Djokovic beat him 6-2 7-6 in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters. It was the first time the Spaniard had lost there since 2003, having since racked up eight straight titles.

After coming into the tournament with a slight injury cloud over him, Djokovic very much played his way into form, dropping sets in his first two matches, before dispatching the tournament’s giant killer Fabio Fognini in the semis. The first set against Nadal showed just why Djokovic must surely have at least one Roland Garros crown in him at some point. He raced to a 5-0 lead, effortlessly hitting winners left right and centre, in a way that no one has ever done against Nadal on clay before. Indeed the Serb said himself after the match that it was the best he is capable of playing on the surface.

The second was a much tighter affair, with Nadal twice going up a break, but not managing to consolidate, and once it reached the breaker it had that sense of inevitability as Djokovic stepped it up a gear. The victory was really big news for both camps. As far as Nadal is concerned, he basically owns this tournament. No one has had a look in for almost a decade, but as he keeps stressing, the streak couldn’t go on forever so it’s not a disaster! For Djokovic, it was a big one ticked off the list – he’s lived in Monaco for a fair few years now so of course his home tournament has been high up in his priorities for a while. It also means that he only has to win the masters in Cincinnati to complete the set of masters 1000 titles.

Where from here…

Well obviously it seems easy to say but these two are clearly the men to beat on the clay. We won’t see what Federer is looking like until Madrid in a couple of weeks’ time when he kicks off his campaign, and Murray looked completely off the pace in his 6-1 6-2 defeat to Stan Wawrinka. Nadal is also playing Barcellona this week, and so with and extra week of match practice I’d say that he should be more competitive come the next meeting between the two of them. However with their current rankings that doesn’t mean that will necessarily be in a final. Regardless, if they did meet in a semi, surely the winner of that match would go on and take the tournament.

I’m backing Djokovic for another win in Madrid. At altitude, it’s never been prime hunting ground for Nadal given the fast clay courts there, though he has won there in the past. However it could also suit a relative outsider with a big game like Del Potro or Berdych if they get on a run. Come Rome, I’m seeing Nadal back to his absolute best, and I think he will take the win there before moving on to target yet more history at the French Open. Lets just hope they will be in opposite sides of the draw there!

The ones to watch out for…

Fabio Fognini was the surprise package in Monaco. Beating Berdych and Gasquet back to back without dropping a set was massively impressive and just highlights the hand skills the Italian possesses. If he can just stop moving so lazily about the court he court really challenge the best on this surface.

Richard Gasquet is arguably at his best on the clay and despite that shock loss to Fognini, he is having a good year. Without the burden of pressure and expectation from which he suffered earlier in his career, I do expect him to go deep into one of these tournaments soon and possibly overtake compatriot Tsonga as world number 8.

Jo Wilfried Tsonga is himself improving on the red dirt though. A couple of years ago I would’ve laughed at the prospect of him reaching the semis in Monaco, but he came back from a set down to defeat Wawrinka in the quarters which was particularly impressive. These two have had their fair share of battles in the past, but you would generally class the Swiss as the superior clay courter, backed up by that win over Murray. But however impressive Tsonga was there, he was just as disappointing against Nadal in the semis, failing to trouble the Spaniard at all. Still if he gets a good draw on the quick courts of Madrid he could do some damage.

Grigor Dimitrov had the beating of Nadal in the quarters in Monaco. I see him as a super-hybrid-cross with Federer’s shots and Djokovic’s movement and flexibility. At times he was just unplayable, and of course, he plays that variety of tennis which the crowd love, so once he can just get to the next level of consistency and hold it together mentally, he could start beating the big dogs.