Djokovic’s primer for the French Open

By Ritesh Mishra
By Ritesh Misra

Rafa Nadal has won as many as 11 Monte Carlo Masters 1000 tournaments. An incredible record. He has of course an even more impressive record of as many as 13 French Open titles. The legend will be aiming for his 12th Monte Carlo championships and 14th French Open in 2021, and certainly, though he has “dropped” to World Number 3, he will be the overwhelming favorite at both.

As the stage is set for the 2021 Monte Carlo Masters, let us preview the current year’s tournament, have a look at the draw and how it looks for the top four seeds. Since Rafa Nadal has been the standout performer, let us also go on a nostalgic journey of the legend’s performances here.

Rafa has won at Monte Carlo for 8 years in a row from 2005 to 2012 and then after a three-year gap, he won a straight 3 times from 2016 to 2018. His first win at Monte Carlo was in 2005. He was the 11th seed, and he defeated the defending champion and sixth-seeded Guillermo Coria in the finals. He would go on to win the next seven as well. This included three straight wins over Roger Federer from 2006-2008, and two wins over Novak Djokovic, in 2009 and 2012. In 2010, he defeated Verdasco, while in 2011 he defeated David Ferrer. His wins from 2016-2018 were over Gael Monfils, Albert Ramos Vinolas, and Kei Nishikori.

Nadal’s 1st time entry in this tournament in 2003, the three-year gap from 2013-2015, and the last time the tournament was held in 2019 are the only five times he has lost to anyone here. Let us look at who the victors were.

In 2003, Nadal was just 16. He lost to Guillermo Coria in the third round in straight sets after stretching him to a tie-breaker in the 1st set. Coria went on to win the tournament. As we have seen, Rafa defeated him in the final in the next year. In 2013, Nadal lost to Djokovic in the finals. Novak also defeated him in the semi-finals in 2015. In the 2014 Masters, he lost to David Ferrer in the Quarter-finals. In 2019, he was stopped by Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals.

For the record, the winners in 2013-15 and 2019 were Novak, Wawrinka ( Stan stopped Federer who does not have a single win here, with 4 losses in the finals), Novak once again, and Fabio Fognini. Therefore, amongst current players, the only Champions are Nadal (11), Novak(2), and one a-piece by Wawrinka and Fognini. Wawrinka has however opted out, and two other top ten players, who have opted out are Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem. While Federer has said he will make a comeback at Madrid Open, Thiem, who is certainly one of the strongest contenders on clay-courts, has said that while he is fit and fine, he needs more time to prepare for tougher and more important battles ahead. It is clear that he has the French Open in mind. Thiem was also candid enough to accept that he has not done well at Monte Carlo in the past and therefore he will prefer more preparation time for other tournaments to follow.

Now let us look at the draw for the top 4 seeds.

Novak has won 36 Masters so far which is a record and he would be keen to extend it to 37. He and Rafa have met at Monte Carlo four times and both have won here twice. Rafa’s one-sided win will give him lot of confidence and so also his overall 18-7 h2h on clay but Novak will take solace that their last two matches here at Monte Carlo, were won by him. Novak will also be confident since he had a terrific Australian Open and he having opted to skip Miami, will also be well rested for Monte Carlo.

Novak has an interesting 1st match (second round) against the winner of Sinner-Ramos-Vinolas. If he wins, as expected to, he will meet Miami winner Hurkacz and then Goffin or Zverev in the Quarter-finals. He is scheduled to meet Tsitsipas in the semi-finals. Rafa and Novak being in opposite halves is great news as it gives us a chance of yet another Novak-Rafa final.

Medvedev is certainly far better on hard-courts than on clay, but he had a terrific Monte Carlo Masters in 2019, where he defeated Tsitsipas in the 3rd round and Novak in the QF before losing to Dusan Lajovic in the Semis. He has also defeated Nadal the last time they met, which was at the Nitto ATP WTF at London. He will need his best to defeat Rafa yet again in the Semi-finals here if they meet. He is scheduled to meet Basilashvil in the second round, and defending champion Fognini in the 3rd. That should be a great match. If Medvedev wins he should meet Busta or Schwartzmann in the Quarterfinals.

Rafa will be seeking his 36th to equal Novak’s tally. As mentioned above he is scheduled to meet Novak in the final if he defeats Medvedev in the semi-finals. Rafa starts against Mannarino or a qualifier. Then he meets Agut or Rublev or Dimitrov.

Tsitsipas will be seeking inspiration from his 2019 win over Rafa at the Madrid Open. He too has a very interesting second-round match, either Musetti or Karatsev which promises to be an exciting first-round match. Monfils and Berretini are in his way, as are Christian Garin and Felix Auger Aliassime. Garin-Felix too, like Musetti-Karatsev is an exciting first-round match.

A special mention about dangerous floater Fognini. All will remember his defeating Rafa in the 2019 SF and will feel that he got lucky in facing Lajovic rather than Novak ( lost to Medvedev in QF) or Medvedev ( lost to Lajovic in SF). However, apart from defeating Rafa which was undoubtedly the icing on the cake, he had progressed to SF by defeating Rublev, Zverev, and Borna Coric, which shows his prowess. He has defeated Rafa 3 times on clay and on the form can take out anyone. His progress in the tournament will be of interest. If he defats Medvedev he could well go on to meet Rafa in the semi-finals.

Sinner’s progress will also be keenly watched. He entered the Miami final and is clearly in form. He has a tough 1st round in Ramos-Vinolas which will test him. The teen then meets Novak. If he wins, the tournament will come to life. However, I feel Novak will prevail.

I do not see anyone other than the top 4 seeds and maybe Fognini in the finals. In fact, it is difficult to see beyond Nadal and Novak as winners. So, will it be 12 for Nadal or 3 for Novak? Or will Fognini, who is an outstanding clay-court player with 9 of his 15 top ten wins coming on clay, including three over Nadal win his second Monte Carlo Masters? Or will I be wrong and Monte Carlo will throw up a 1st-time winner.
Looking forward to a great tournament.

About the Author:

The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer. He can be reached at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Pragativadi and Pragativadi.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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