The official start of the European clay court swing is less than 48 hours away, as the ATP World Tour’s top athletes prepare to clash at the first clay court Masters event of the season, the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters. Although the event is known as the only non-mandatory Masters event on the tour, it is still a tournament that the majority of the sport’s elite athletes enjoy partaking in. Why is this the case? What makes Monte Carlo such an iconic and memorable event? We analyze the rich history and unique characteristics of the event below.
The Monte Carlo Masters first took place 114 years ago in 1897. From 1970 through 1973 and from 1978 through 1989 it was a major tournament as part of the Grand Prix Championship Series top tier events. In between that period, in 1974 through 1977 the tournament was part of the World Championship Tennis (WCT) circuit. Once the ATP was fully established, Monte Carlo became an ATP Championship Series Single Week tennis event in 1990.
One of the most important characteristics about the Monte Carlo Masters is that it is a fantastic warm-up event for the French Open a few weeks later. While other clay court Masters events such as Madrid and Rome take place closer to the date of Roland Garros, it is Monte Carlo that shares the same climate and altitude as the second Grand Slam of the season.
The tournament also made headlines in 2007, when it was involved in one of the more controversial incidents of that year, as the ATP attempted to downgrade the event from its status as a Masters event. This led the tournament to sue the ATP over the decision. They eventually dropped the federal suit against the ATP Tour and agreed to forgo the mandatory player commitments other top-tier events require.
To add to the tournament’s prestige, the last four decades have seen some of the greatest names in tennis history lift the Monte Carlo title. Bjorn Borg won the here on three different occasions in 1977, 1979, and 1980, Ilie Năstase (1971-73), Argentina’s Guillermo Vilas (1976, 1982), Mats Wilander (1983), Ivan Lendl (1985, 1988) and Carlos Moyá (1998).
While the record for most title wins in Monte Carlo was once held by British standout Reggie Doherty, who won the title on six occasions between 1987 and 1904, the tournament has now become synonymous with a single player, Rafael Nadal. The world No. 1 won eight consecutive titles in Monte Carlo between 2005 and 2012, before losing for the first time at the event since 2003 to Djokovic last year in a historic final. The Serbian’s victory was a dominant one, as he defeated Rafa 6-2, 7-6 (1) to produce the historic upset against the King of Clay.
- The Spaniard Rafael Nadal claimed 46 wins in a row as he won eight successive titles from 2005-’12
- No American man since Hugh Stewart in 1956 has been victorious in Monte Carlo.
- There was no champion declared in 1981, as the final between Jimmy Connors and Guilermo Vilas was never rescheduled after an extended rain delay.
- Richard Gasquet made his ATP main draw debut at Monte Carlo and a few years later in 2005 shocked then Swiss world no. 1 Federer in the quarterfinals.
- Roger Federer has never won the Monte Carlo Masters, finishing runner-up on three separate occasions.
- John McEnroe never won in Monte Carlo, yet finished runner-up in the doubles portion of the event.