Rafael Nadal will make his return to the ATP Tour this week when he takes part in the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. It is his first tournament since the Australian Open, where he lost in the quarter finals. Nadal defends the title here, having won in for the tenth time last year. Roger Federer will once again not compete here due to his skipping of the whole clay season.
Nadal didn’t look like a player coming off a three month layoff in Davis Cup last week, emphatically beating Alexander Zverev and Philipp Kohlschreiber to help Spain to a win over Germany. “I always feel good when I am here, it is one of my favourite tournaments.” said during the draw ceremony. As overwhelming favourite, there isn’t a great deal for Nadal to worry about most of the time on clay given his utter dominance on the surface.
Karen Khachanov is probably as tough as it gets in the first two rounds but the draw has thrown up two potentially troubling ties for him to advance from his quarter. Fifth seed Dominic Thiem was the only player to beat him on clay last year, thrashing him in Rome. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic is ninth seed in this quarter too. The Serbian has reunited with former coach Marian Vajda in attempt to reverse his fortunes this season. Djokovic is a two-time winner at the event having won in 2013 and 2015. One of his 26 wins over Nadal, the 2013 victory ended a 8 year winning streak in Monte Carlo for the Spaniard.
Grigor Dimitrov is projected to be Nadal’s semi final opponent but given his current form, it is far from a certainty. He has won one of his last five matches, with losses to several weaker opponents. He won the last two main draw matches on clay against 15th seed Albert Ramos Vinolas although the Spaniard has made a substantial improvement since the 2014 match.
Roberto Bautista Agut has had a bizarre season thus far, winning two titles while also suffering four first round exits out of the other five tournaments he has played. He has the potential to go deep though this tournament, especially with 6th seed David Goffin‘s troubles. The Belgian returned from injury to play in Miami, only to lose 6-0 6-1 to Joao Sousa – indicating things aren’t right still. He has semi final points to defend having beaten Thiem and Djokovic on his way there last year.
The best chance of French success lies with seventh seed Lucas Pouille, who reached his career high ranking last month after making three finals this year. Being in the other half of the draw from Nadal gives him an opportunity to make that four but his quarter looks wide open with all three of the seeds fancying their chances to make the semi finals on their favoured surface.
10th seed Diego Schwartzman is very competent on the surface and is 2-0 vs Pouille while Fabio Fognini does have 2 clay titles to his name in the past 12 months – Gstaad and Sao Paolo. Fourth seed Alexander Zverev rounds off the quarter and will be favoured to advance here having made the final in Miami. The German will have been disappointed to have lost to John Isner there but there were signs of a return to form in the latter stages. Zverev won a clay Masters last year in Rome to move into the top 10 for the first time last year.
With clay probably his weakest surface, Marin Cilic will once again be vulnerable as second seed. However, the Croatian has made two straight quarter finals in Monte Carlo and will need to win just two matches to make a third. An improving Milos Raonic may well beat him in round three but veterans Pablo Cuevas and Fernando Verdasco will face off for the opportunity to play Cilic in round two, both of whom could well spring a shock against the World No.3. Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori play in the match of the first round but the likely quarter finalist from that section of the draw looks to be Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard will be hoping to improve on a career best third round in Monte Carlo and is well placed to as 7th seed.
SF: Rafael Nadal def. Roberto Bautista Agut
SF: Alexander Zverev def. Pablo Carreno Busta
F: Rafael Nadal def. Alexander Zverev