Sunday, April 12, 2015

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters Preview

The Monte-Carlo Masters may no longer be mandatory, but players clearly love playing in the most scenic tournament on the ATP calendar.  This year's tournament is once again loaded with top players, although recently married Andy Murray is notably absent. 

At the top of the draw, Novak Djokovic couldn't have asked for a much better quarter.  The seeds in his section are Ernests Gulbis (a grand total of one win on the year), Jo- Wilfried Tsonga (played two matches so far this year) and Marin Cilic (lost the only match he has played his year).  It seems safe to say Djokovic will coast into the quarters without any trouble.  However, his joke of a draw will end in the semifinals.

The next section is led by third seed Rafael Nadal, who must be thrilled the tour has returned to his beloved red clay.  Nadal seems to be slowly rounding back into form, and clay is exactly what he needs to complete his comeback.  However, unlike Djokovic, Nadal won't have the advantage of an easy draw.  He could open against the big hitting Dominic Thiem, who seems to be moving past his early season slump.  He could then face the always dangerous John Isner, before facing David Ferrer (currently 22-3 on the year) in the quarters.  Nadal is the pick to reach the semis, but he'll have to be prepared for some tough matches along the way.

In the bottom half, the first quarter boasts big hitting Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic, both of whom are comfortable on the red clay.  This section is full of Europeans, most of whom enjoy playing on clay, but it's hard to see anyone stopping these two seeds.  Tommy Robredo and Roberto Bautista-Agut are the other seeds in this section, but neither is in particularly good form.  The power of Berdych and Raonic should be too much for everyone else in this section, and it should be an interesting quarterfinal between the two.  They have never played on clay, but Raonic has won 3 of the pair's 4 meetings.  Despite the head-to-head favoring Raonic, Berdych appears to be playing a bit better at the moment and should be able to squeak past Raonic on his way to the semis.

The bottom quarter features the Swiss stars Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka, and is definitely the "flashiest" section.  While Wawrinka once again disappointed at the Indian Wells and Miami Masters, he is much more comfortable playing in Monte Carlo.  He is the defending champion, and will be hungry to defend his title.  Wawrinka could have a tough first round match against Jiri Vessely or Juan Monaco, but should be able to get past either of them.  His next match could be against either Fognini, Janowicz, Verdasco or Dimitrov (good luck predicting who will come out of that foursome). 

Assuming 9th seeded Dimitrov can make it out of that group, Wawrinka and Dimitrov would make for a round of 16 that one-handed backhand fans all around the world wouldn't want to miss.  Given Dimitrov's struggles in 2015, it's hard to pick him to go much further until he's shown he is out of his slump, and Wawrinka would have the edge in this matchup. 

On his way to Wawrinka in the quarters, Federer could have to deal with the talented Gael Monfils, Borna Coric or Alexandr Dolgopolov, but it's hard to see any of them upsetting the Swiss legend.  In the quarters, expect Federer to get revenge against Wawrinka for his loss in the 2014 finals.

In the blockbuster first semifinal, expect Djokovic to beat the King of Clay in three sets.  It's never easy to pick against Nadal on clay, but he probably isn't quite ready to beat Djokovic on any surface.  (This doesn't mean he won't be ready by the time Roland Garros rolls around).  No one is playing better than Djokovic, and he should be the fresher of the two in the semis given his easier draw.  Djokovic no longer fears Nadal like he once did, even on clay, and should be able to handle the tough challenge the Spaniard will present. 

In the second semifinal, Federer should get past Tomas Berdych in three sets.  Berdych is certainly capable of getting the win, but it's hard to pick against Federer when he only has two losses on the year, one of them against Djokovic in three sets.  Federer is also a better clay court player than Berdych, and his superior movement should carry him past the big hitting Czech. 

In the finals, Djokovic would be the fairly heavy favorite against Federer.  At this point in their careers Federer still matches up fairly well against Djokovic on a faster surface, but the slower the court the more it favors Djokovic.  On the red clay, it's hard to see Federer being able to outlast the steadier Serb.  Even if Federer comes out firing, Djokovic should be able to wear him down as the match progresses.  Federer may steal a set, particularly if Djokovic's nerves kick in, but Djokovic will be your 2015 Monte Carlo champion.  

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