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Ricky’s Preview and Picks for This Week’s Masters Tennis in Monte-Carlo

Fabio Fognini of Italy (L) celebrates next to Prince Albert II of Monaco (R) after winning his final match of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tournament in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, 21 April 2019. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

By Ricky Dimon

A spring clay-court swing is actually happening this year. It may look a little different with little to no fans in attendance depending on the particular tournament, and the schedule toward the end is in flux with the recent French Open postponement–but at least it’s happening at all. While some clay-court events on the original 2020 schedule were moved from April and May to September and October, most of them were canceled altogether—Monte-Carlo included.

This time around, the Masters 1000 event on the coast of Monaco is back in its rightful place in the second week of the clay-court season. It boasts a strong field, too. Both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal skipped the Miami Open among with many other players, but they are returning to action in Monte-Carlo. Nadal is actually seeded third behind Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev, followed by Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev, Diego Schwartzman, and Matteo Berrettini.

Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters

Where: Monte-Carlo, Monaco
Surface: Clay
: 1000
Top seed: Novak Djokovic
Defending champion: Fabio Fognini

As the No. 3 seed, Nadal could have landed in the same half of the draw as Djokovic. But that did not turn out to be the case, so a final between the top two favorites remains possible. Medvedev does not appear to be much of a threat on clay at this point in time, which means Nadal’s toughest test prior to the title match may be Rublev in the quarters. The Russian is red hot, but his Monte-Carlo draw is not friendly. In order to get a shot at Nadal, Rublev would likely have to get past Roberto Bautista Agut in round three. Meanwhile, among those looking to take advantage of Medvedev’s section are Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini, Casper Ruud, and Filip Krajinovic.

Djokovic probably won’t be able to waste any time getting in gear on clay because his opening match could come against Miami runner-up Jannik Sinner. Already a force on multiple surfaces, the 19-year-old Italian also made a run to the French Open quarterfinals last fall. A stacked top half of the Monte-Carlo bracket also features Tsitsipas, Zverev, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Aslan Karatsev, Lorenzo Musetti, dangerous clay-court specialist Cristian Garin, Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz, and current Cagliari finalist Lorenzo Sonego. Intriguing first-rounders are Karatsev vs. Musetti, Garin vs. Auger-Aliassime, and Sonego vs. Marton Fucsovics.

First-round upset alert: Jan-Lennard Struff over (14) Grigor Dimitrov. The head-to-head series on the main tour is tied up at 2-2, with Struff having taken two of their three previous clay-court encounters. Dimitrov has cooled off a bit with an Acapulco quarterfinal loss to Musetti and an opening setback in Miami at the hands of Cameron Norrie, both in straight sets. Struff already has some clay-court action under his belt, too, having advanced to the quarterfinals in Cagliari.

Quarterfinal picks: Alexander Zverev over Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas over Matteo Berrettini, Rafael Nadal over Andrey Rublev, and Diego Schwartzman over Filip Krajinovic

Semifinals: Tsitsipas over Zverev and Nadal over Schwartzman

Final: Nadal over Tsitsipas

Rafael Nadal of Spain serves the ball to Fabio Fognini of Italy during their semi final match at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tournament in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, 20 April 2018. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.