After the enthralling American hard court swing, tennis’s clay court season kicks into gear this week in the French Riviera as the top players on the ATP tour contest the 2017 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters.
As the first Masters 1000 event of the year held on the red dirt, the tournament in the principality offers an insight into what we can expect for the remainder of the upcoming clay schedule, leading to the second major of the year at the French Open.
Based on his season so far, the resurgent Rafael Nadal will be the clear favourite on his beloved clay and especially in Monte Carlo, where he returns as the defending champion and a nine-time winner overall.
Action in the main draw begins on Monday.
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters:
Location: Monte Carlo Country Club, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Monte Carlo, Monaco, France.
Founded: 1897 (121st edition)
Prize fund: €4,273,775
2017 dates: 15th-23rd April, 16th-23rd April (main draw).
Defending 2016 champion: Rafael Nadal
Most titles: Rafael Nadal (9)
Points breakdown*: Winner – 1000, runner-up – 600, semi-finalist – 360, quarter-finalist – 180, round-of-16 – 90, round of 32 – 45, round of 64 – 25, round of 128 – 10.
(*The 32 seeded players receive a bye to the second round and automatically accumulate rankings points for that round)
Big names missing
Man of the moment Roger Federer – winner of the three biggest titles to date in 2017 – has elected to skip the clay season with the exception of the French Open, to rehab his body after his phenomenal start to the year. It’s a big miss for the tour, but Monte Carlo will see the return of the world’s top two ranked players, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who both missed the Miami Open with elbow injuries.
Japan’s world No. 7 Kei Nishikori is a notable absentee however after deciding not to make the trip and American Jack Sock, who competed this week in Houston, is another top 20 player who won’t feature. World No. 11 Gael Monfils remains in rehabilitation for patella and achilles injuries, whilst No. 15 Nick Kyrgios – one of the tour’s top performers in Indian Wells and Miami – has withdrawn due to fatigue after playing last week’s Davis Cup tie for Australia. Richard Gasquet has also pulled out of the draw.
Following a shock second round exit to Jiri Vesely last year, current world No. 2 Djokovic enters this year’s Monte Carlo Masters with only 10 ranking points to defend. The 29-year-old has been out of sorts in 2017, but showed glimpses of his imperious best in Serbia’s Davis Cup win over Spain and with the motivation of a huge potential gain this week in terms of ranking points, the tournament could provide the springboard for Novak’s season.
Victory here would see Djokovic gain considerable ground on Andy Murray, particularly if the world No. 1 fails to at least match his semi-final showing from 2016. As the defending champion in Monte Carlo, Rafael Nadal has 1000 points to protect and could drop out of the top 5 if he does not win the tournament and Milos Raonic has an impressive run, or if he does not make the final as he would be leapfrogged by Nishikori, who has no points to defend. Even in reaching the semis therefore, Nadal could find himself dropping to No. 7 next week.
|Ranking||Player||Total points||Points defending in Monte Carlo||Next best*|
(*The ATP rankings are determined by each players best 18 tournament results over the past 12 months. On account of having played more tournaments than those that are currently accounted for in the rankings, a players ‘next best’ score would replace Monte Carlo points if they were a higher value after points were dropped.)
The draw and outlook for top stars
As outlined above, Monte Carlo presents the perfect opportunity for Djokovic to regain his mojo and based on the Serb’s Davis Cup exploits, the elbow injury was not as serious as first thought and should not be problematic. The opposite may prove to be the case for Murray however, with the Scot admitting that the ailment is still affecting his serve after he looked laboured playing in Federer’s charity exhibition last week.
Given the uncertainity surrounding the top two and the number of high-profile players resting on the sidelines, the draw could open up for world No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, who despite going under the radar somewhat has enjoyed a strong start to the year. The winner at Roland Garros two years ago, Stan has proven himself to be an adept clay courter late in his career. In truth however, it’s hard here to look past the Mallorcan.
Had it not been for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal might already have three titles to his name in 2017, including a major championship at the Australian Open. Even in 2016, where Nadal struggled badly for form throughout the year and suffered lingering bouts of injury, he lifted the title in Monte Carlo and this year, he stands on the cusp of his tenth title in the principality. With a fully fit Nadal on the court at this tournament, you can’t look past the ‘King of Clay’ for the crown.