The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters occupies a unique place within the ATP Tour calendar. For many, it is still the kick-off event for the European clay court season. Add in the tournament’s long history, the glamorous back drop of its host city and that stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea just steps away from the center court and it is not hard to see why so many of the world’s top players keep coming back each year.
Held each year at the famed Monte Carlo Country Club, the event is one of the oldest running tournaments in the history of the sport. In fact, it is only 20 years younger than Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament of all. Begun in 1897, Monte Carlo was primarily contested by Europeans and English players. Reggie Doherty of the U.K. was the first winner of the inaugural event and soon went onto raise the trophy six times.
The event continued uninterrupted except between 1914 through 1919 during World War I and then in 1925 when it was not held.
The Open era of tennis beginning in 1968 allowed professionals to compete at the biggest events. That changed ushered in the modern game of tennis and with it attracted many of the sport’s biggest stars to Monte Carlo.
Nicola Pietrangeli of Italy won the title in 1968 and soon began a domination of the event by European players.
Bjorn Borg won the event three times in 1977, 1979, and 1980. American Jimmy Connors did reach the finals in 1981 and was to play Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas, but the finals were rained out and not rescheduled. Vilas came back the next year in 1982 and won the title. No American man since Hugh Stewart in 1956 has been victorious here although several have reached the finals including Mel Purcell (1983), Jimmy Arias (1987), and Aaron Krickstein (1992).
France’s Pierre Darmon won the title back to back in 1962 and 1963, but the country’s last champion was Cedric Pioline in 2002. Also in 2002, Richard Gasquet made his ATP main draw debut at the event and a few years later in 2005 shocked then Swiss world no. 1 Federer in the quarterfinals.
Among all of Federer’s many achievements, the Swiss superstar has never won Monte Carlo. Federer did reach three consecutive finals from 2006 through 2008.
In recent years, one man has become almost synonymous with the event – Rafael Nadal.
Nadal himself has won more times at Monte Carlo than anyone else in the modern era – a record eight straight titles in a row starting in 2005 when he beat then defending champion Guillermo Coria of Argentina to last year when he defeated Serbian Djokovic in straight sets.
Djokovic, an official resident of Monte Carlo, has only reached two finals – once in 2009 and in 2012.
In 2006, the tournament celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Despite the event’s storied history, that didn’t prevent it from creating controversy back in 2007. That year the ATP Tour attempted to downgrade the events in Monte Carlo and Hamburg that were already part of the “Masters” series of events began in 2000. The ATP wanted to lower the status and prize money offered at Monte Carlo as part of an updated schedule for 2009. Many European players were not happy about the proposal and made their thoughts known during a spirited players meeting in Miami that year. Organizers of the Monte Carlo event sued the ATP, but then later dropped the suit after a compromise deal was made.
Per the agreement, the ATP allowed Monte Carlo to remain as a Masters 1000 event with the same ranking points and prize money, but it would not have the same mandatory player commitments that the other Masters events still require.
For 2013, Djokovic will be the top seed followed by the Brit Murray and then Nadal. Federer is choosing not to play the event, as he has done for several years now while No.4 in the world Spaniard Ferrer was forced to withdraw due to injury.
Aside from the tennis, the Monte Carlo event is known for its spectacular pre-event parties. One in particular is the player’s party where many of the ATP pros dress in drag or in costume and imitate each other.
The Monte Carlo Rolex Masters will be held this year from April 13th to the 21st.