The first of three Masters Series ATP 1000 tournaments played during the grueling European Clay season gets underway today as the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters gets underway at the picturesque surroundings of Monte Carlo Country Club. It brings together 16 of the top twenty ranked players on the circuit and only the Scott And Murray (Who got married to longtime girlfriend Kim Sears in Dunblane) and Japan’s Kei Nishikori are the absentees from the top ten.
The man of the moment Novak Djokovic who only needs to win the French Open to complete the career slam has been on a roll winning all the three important events in 2015. He won his fifth Australian Open in Melbourne and became the only player in history to complete the Indian Wells-Miami double for the third time, having earlier achieved the feat in 2011 and 2014. He is 25-2 in 2015 and has little to worry about till the semi-finals where he could face the Greatest Clay Court player of all time Rafael Nadal of Spain. He only has the Frenchman Jo Wilfred Tsonga and Marin Cillic in his quarter of the draw and both are woefully short of match practice having just returned to the circuit after injury layoffs.
Rafael Nadal opens his campaign against the promising Austrian Dominic Thiem or a wild card entry Lucas Pouille but could face a stern test against the fellow Spaniard David Ferrer who beat him at the same stage last year. Nadal however came into his element to claim the Madrid Masters and more importantly his Ninth French Open crown at Roland Garros. Ferrer has won three tournaments this year in Doha, Rio De Janeiro and Acapulco while Nadal has won only in Buenos Aires on clay. Ferrer is 22-3 in 2015, Nadal is 15-5.
The last remaining quarter of the draw features Milos Raonic of Canada and Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. While both are yet to win a tournament this year, Berdych has reached atleast the semi-final stage in 5 out of the six tournaments that he has played thia year registering a 23-6 mark. Raonic recorded his first ever victory against the Spaniard Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells and is 17-7 this year.
It appears that the best match of the tournament could be the semi-final between the 2013 champion Djokovic and Nadal who won eight in a row from 2005 to 2012 at this event. Nadal leads Djokovic 23-19 in career meetings in a rivalry between two players who have played against each other the maximum number of times in the Open Era. Without any real form guide on clay, it will be fair to say that the winner of that match would be fancied to lift the crown on Sunday. For the record Nadal leads the list of ATP 1000 titles at 27, Federer is at 23 and Djokovic has 22
Four time finalist at this event Roger Federer has a potentially arduous draw on his least favoured surface as he is drawn against players who have all beaten him in 2014; the year in which he had a tour best 73-12 record. Like all top eight seeds he has a bye into the second round and he could play France’s Jeremy Chardy first up. Chardy beat the Swiss in his first match at the Rome Masters in 2014 when Federer came back from paternity leave following the birth of twins which made him miss the Madrid Masters. Next up he is seeded to play another Frenchman Gael Monfils who led by two sets at the US Open and then decimated a somewhat unfit Federer in straight sets on the opening day of the Davis Cup final by BNP Paribas. If he progresses to the quarter-finals then it maybe a repeat of last years final against fellow countryman and defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka. He will however relish the chances in the semi-finals as both Djokovic and Nadal are in the top half of the draw and he is seeded to play the Canadian Milos Raonic who too registered his only win against the second seed at the Paris Indoors Masters in 2014. Federer has a 8-1 record against the sixth ranked Raonic who is seeded fourth in the absence of both Murray and Nishikori. Federer won in Brisbane and in Dubai and is 16-2 this year.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy.You can reach him at the email: firstname.lastname@example.org]