(3)Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-6(3)
2, 3, NS, NS
SEEDS: ONE & DONE (1st Match Loss)
5 out of 16
MONTE-CARLO NEWS & NOTES
*Stefanos Tsitsipas bids to join only Rafael Nadal and Ilie Nastase as the only players to win three consecutive titles at the Monte-Carlo Masters. Tsitsipas completed back-to-back championships here in 2022 with a straight sets win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as a heavy 1.20 (-500) favorite. Interestingly, the Greek was the only underdog winner in the last seven runs of this event when he took the title in 2021 over Andrey Rublev.
*There were only a dozen underdog wins in 2022 at this stop out of 55 matches played. The biggest hit came when Davidovich Fokina shocked (1)Djokovic in round two as a 5.74 (+474) dog. The next two substantial scores came in the round of 16 when (4)Casper Ruud fell to Grigor Dimitrov with Dimitrov at 4.45 (+345) and Sebastian Korda’s upset of (8)Carlos Alcaraz at 4.41 (+341) in round two. The business end of the tournament featured little in the way of upsets with just one underdog hit in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final. The opening round was nearly baron of dog scores as well with just two of the 24 matches going against the favorite.
*Unseeded players have made a habit of crashing the final in Monte-Carlo in the last few runs with three of the last four finals featuring an unseeded player. Unseeded players have made deep runs fairly consistent however with six of the last 16 semifinalists in Monte-Carlo being unseeded players. Even so, an unseeded player has not won here since 1992 when Tomas Muster took the title.
*Twenty-seven of the 55 matches in 2022 required three sets to be settled. That was down sharply from only 12 in 2021 and 15 in 2019. The run of 27 last year in Monte-Carlo featured all four of the quarterfinals going three and one of the semifinals as well. The last final to go three sets was 2016 when Nadal outlasted Monfils 7-5, 5-7, 6-0 to claim the 9th of his eleven titles at this Masters event. If you’re hunting for three set matches, the quarterfinals are a good place to focus. At least two quarterfinals have needed three sets in eight of the last nine runs of this tournament.
*The lead “stories” for Monte-Carlo will focus on who isn’t here first with both Nadal and Alcaraz sidelined due to injury. It will focus on one guy who is here and that’s Novak Djokovic who returns for the first time since losing in the semifinals of Dubai to Daniil Medvedev back on March 3rd. The Serb missed the Sunshine Double due to his unvaccinated status, so he returns here after a big break in action and that may not be the best thing for him. What was great for him was recapturing the number one spot in the rankings without playing a match the last month. Djokovic stands at 15-1 for the year, but has found Monte-Carlo to be a nightmare since winning here twice in a three year stretch in 2013 and 2015. Since then, the Serb has never been past the quarterfinals and has gone one and done twice in 2016 and 2022. This will be a test for him to get untracked off a first round bye.
*The seeded field behind Djokovic includes two-time defending champ Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Casper Ruud to round out the top four. Tsitsipas has won his last ten at this event and only dropped one set. His last loss in Monte-Carlo was to Medvedev in the round of 16 in 2019. Medvedev had his best run that year when he made the semifinals after having lost two of his three matches at this stop. We know clay isn’t his favorite with an 8-5 record over the last two seasons on dirt. Most of his best stuff has come at the French Open the last few years. Ruud comes in having finally found a good string of results with the surface switch as he is in the title match in Estoril on Sunday. The Norwegian is 5-3 in three trips to Monte-Carlo with a 2021 semifinal as his best finish.
*Behind the top four are perhaps the “men of intrigue” with Andrey Rublev, Holger Rune, Jannik Sinner and Taylor Fritz seeded 5th through 8th. Rublev has been mostly miss more than hit in Monte-Carlo although he did make the final in 2021. Outside of that run, he has only made it as far as the round of 16 in his other four main draw participations. Rune looks to get past round two for the first time and also plays his first tournament post-Patrick Mouratoglou. They ended their six month partnership last week. Long-term coach Lars Christensen remains with the Dane as he looks to rebound from a bit of a disappointing Sunshine Double that saw him stopped short of the quarters at both events. The in-form arrival is Sinner with the Italian going 9-2 between Indian Wells and Miami. He has now made three finals in his last four tournaments played, but won just one title in that stretch. Both Sinner and (8)Fritz were quarterfinalists in Monte-Carlo a year ago with Fritz also coming off consecutive quarters in Indian Wells and Miami.
*The last half of the seeds is led by a surging Karen Khachanov as the 9th seed. The Russian comes in off a semifinal run in Miami, but this stop has not been a pleasant one for him. He’s racked up a 4-5 record in Monte-Carlo and has never been beyond the round of 16. Hurkacz slots in at #10 and carries in a disappointing run that has seen him go just 2-3 in his last three tournaments. That includes a one and done in Estoril last week. The Pole is defending quarterfinal points from a year ago and seeks consecutive wins at the same tournament for the first time since Dubai. Cam Norrie could be one to watch as he looks to shake off a flat opening defeat to Gregoire Barrere in Miami. Norrie was on fire on clay during the South American swing with a highlight title in Rio. This is just his third run in MC and he lost his opener here in 2022.
*Alexander Zverev is here as the #13 seed and the German is also looking to bounce back from a poor opening loss to Taro Daniel in Miami. Zverev had looked to be rising after a tough three set loss against Medvedev at Indian Wells, but now has to find his confidence again. He’s made the semifinals twice in Monte-Carlo with the last one coming in 2022. His story is familiar to many of the final seeds with de Minaur, Coric and Musetti all being more down than up in recent tournaments. Musetti broke a five match losing skid with a win in Marrakech, but could not back it up with consecutive wins. None have done much at this event outside of a quarterfinal run for Coric in 2019. With tough matchups in round one, you’ll see some of these names on my one and done watch below.
*Qualifiers haven’t made a ton of noise in Monte-Carlo the last two years. Lorenzo Sonego was the last qualifier to get past the second round. The Italian made it all the way to the quarterfinals in 2019. Andreas Seppi made it through to the round of 16 back in 2018 as a qualifier as did Adrian Mannarino in 2017. And perhaps one of the oddest runs in recent memory was back in 2016 when Marcel Granollers made the quarters at this event as a lucky loser. He beat both Zverev and Goffin en route to that finish in the last eight. There is some good talent left in qualifying, so you should definitely check out where those guys get slotted into the draw when qualis end on Sunday.
*As I mentioned earlier, unseeded players have a good history of making deep runs in Monte-Carlo, but not winning this event. With the first round byes for the top eight seeds and many players in the seeded field making their 2023 clay court debuts this week, there will likely be openings for unseeded players to make more runs this year. Look for those spots in the draw where the seeds have a difficult opener as places where the unseeded guys can take advantage of those early losses – be it the player who puts down a seed or a player adjacent to that part of the draw that swoops in and powers through a few rounds with suddenly better matchups.
Even with Djokovic’s troubles at this tournament, I do not have him on the one and done watch. I think his opener is the type of matchup that should favor him on this surface. Neither Nakashima or McDonald is at their best on this surface, so even with the bye, I’m saying the top seed gets it done in round two. Nakashima and McDonald are playing for the third time already in 2023 with McDonald scoring both wins. The other seed in the Djokovic half is Musetti. The Italian has struggled to pick up wins, so he’ll be on upset alert in round one against Estoril finalist Miomir Kecmanovic. Kecmanovic has had some sporadic runs on clay like he did in Estoril, but generally has not been a big factor on clay at bigger events. Musetti did beat him on a hard surface last year in their only career meeting. The big factor for Kecmanovic will be if he can work the quick turnaround from a Sunday final to his start in Monte-Carlo.
The bottom of this quarter should be all about Sinner. The Italian is red hot and has been a consistent performer at 21-5. Getting one of two struggling players in Schwartzman or Goffin in his opener should yield success in his opener. Sinner has two wins over Goffin and one over Schwartzman, all without dropping a set. Hurkacz could be a threat with two wins in three career meetings against Sinner, but he’s got to get through to the round of 16 first. Djere will be a tricky opener and then it’s Baez or Draper in round two. Although Baez doesn’t have any marquee wins on clay, he has found his consistency on the surface this year at 10-4 overall. He’s 1-5 on hard courts. With Draper out since an injury at Indian Wells, Baez should feel he has an opportunity to win in round one. Djere or Baez could be a sleeper in this section, obviously with better opportunities if Djere takes out Hubi in round one.
Even with Djokovic’s Monte-Carlo curse, is there any way this doesn’t shake out to a Djokovic versus Sinner quarterfinal? For me, Hurkacz would be the concern if he can find the wins that have eluded him recently. He has the path to get there against Sinner in the round of 16 and that’s a flashy matchup if we get it. For Djokovic, I think it’s about finding rhythm early and getting that first win. I think most people would love to see Sinner get his first crack at Djokovic since blowing that two set lead last year at Wimbledon, me included. This might be his best shot to grab his first win against the Serb.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Djere over (10)Hurkacz
Kecmanovic over (16)Musetti
This is one where I think that first match for Medvedev on clay is one to monitor. Yes, Medvedev has been next level awesome on hard courts to start 2023. He’s up to 29-3 overall this year and he even conquered his arch nemesis, Indian Wells, in making the final. We’ve seen him have success on clay at times, so I won’t count him out with the form he’s shown this year. I think Sonego presents the tougher matchup for him to start. The Italian went toe to toe with him in Adelaide to start the year before retiring due to cramping with the score at 7-6, 2-1 in favor of the Russian. The odd duck in this top half to keep an eye on is Bublik. He owns two wins in two tries against his first round foe Zverev, but generally has not enjoyed playing on clay. That could even that one up a bit more I think, but until Bublik loses to the German, you have to say he’s got the edge heading into that one. The match opposite of that features ice cold RBA against Mikael Ymer. RBA has lost seven of eight and dropped his opener in five of his last six tournaments. Ymer hasn’t played since a vicious ankle injury in Miami, so we’ll have to see how he’s recovered. The Swede mostly struggled on clay in 2022, but could push RBA here with the Spaniard seemingly well of his best.
The bottom seeds are Rune and Norrie. Rune on paper might have a tough opener with Thiem or Gasquet, but in reality, it’s difficult seeing one of those guys beating the Dane. Thiem does have three of his four ATP wins this year on clay, but hasn’t shown any semblance of consistency from week to week that suggest he’d beat Rune. Rune hasn’t lost his opener since the first tournament of the season in Adelaide. Gasquet likely doesn’t have the fitness to keep up with Rune either in my estimation. As for Norrie, he’s got Cerundolo first up and this isn’t Miami, so Francisco is back to being a guy you don’t expect to see do much even though he’s more at home on this surface. The one to watch is Cressy against Berrettini. Cressy has gone cold with five straight losses, while Berrettini has gone one and done in three of four ATP tournaments this season. He’s been better of late, but needs a win for confidence building. Cressy has mostly struggled to produce results on clay with his serve and volley style not as conducive to success on the slower surfaces. There are some bumps to prevent a Norrie-Rune quarterfinal and I tend to think Berrettini might be the biggest if he gets a shot at Norrie in round two. If it falls to Norrie and Rune, the Brit has won three of four although Rune did get his first win in there last meeting indoors late in 2022.
There is definitely some question as to whether this quarter might fall to an unseeded player. Yes, Medvedev is in-form and certainly can win on clay, but he also as we know, isn’t at home on this surface. Rune has failed to make deep runs this year like we saw at the tail end of 2022, so he’s no shoe-in to be involved in the last eight. I think Norrie is the guy amongst the seeds who could squeeze through although I don’t think I like a potential match against Medvedev, even on clay. Sonego and Berrettini would be the unseeded names to watch for me in this quarter.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Sonego over (3)Medvedev
Bublik over (13)Zverev
This might be my favorite quarter of the draw with Ruud and Rublev on opposite sides. Ruud has finally shown some positive results after a very sluggish start to the year on hard courts. The switch to clay always looked like the Norwegian’s best chance to turn things around and so far, so good with the run to the final in Estorial this past week. The level turns up here though and that is the next challenge. The first may come in round two against van de Zandschulp who took down Ruud a few weeks ago in Miami. He’s won three of four against Ruud, including one on clay in Munich last year. It looks pretty open on the other part of this half with de Minaur in a tough opener against Andy Murray. ADM has gotten the best of Murray more often than not however and Murray has not played much clay court tennis in the past few years. Still, ADM has slumped with two straight one and dones, so Murray may have a shot. Ramos-Vinolas is a guy to watch out for too. He isn’t getting consistent wins these days, but the lefty is still a tough out on this surface. Ask Cam Norrie whom he beat here last year. The question here for me is if Ruud can get past tougher competition?
In the other half, Rublev leads the charge and should have too much for Huesler or Munar in round two. The challenge for the fifth seed likely comes in the round of 16. That’s where he could see countryman Khachanov or perhaps Davidovich Fokina if he springs the early upset. ADF has had Khachanov’s number with two wins in two career matches, including Indian Wells this year. Khachanov owns a couple wins over Rublev and ADF has made him work in two career losses. I think either one presents a potential stopping point to Rublev’s progress in Monte-Carlo. I don’t see Dan Evans as much of a threat in this quarter and he might do well to get out of round one against a quailifier. It could well work out to a Ruud-Rublev quarterfinal, but I think there’s a lot of traffic in the way, so I’d side with that being more likely not to happen.
So where does that leave this quarter? Open and I think that is what makes it fun. Rublev gets the better early draw, but finds his path more harsh if he progresses. Ruud has won two straight against Rublev, but both were on indoor courts at the Tour Finals in 2021 and 2022. Rublev had won four straight before that turn. I’m looking at that Khachanov-Davidovich Fokina winner as the main threat with van de Zandschulp second up, but one who has yet to produce bigger wins on clay at this level.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
van de Zandschulp over (4)Ruud
Davidovich Fokina over (9)Khachanov
Murray over (14)de Minaur
Tsitsipas won’t hate this draw early in his bid to become a three-peat champion in Monte-Carlo. The Greek may not have to deal with a seed until the quarterfinals as I see Coric in danger of being knocked out early. The Croat faces Jarry whose power serve usually makes him a tough out when he finds his rhythm. Jarry was great during the South American swing with a semifinal run in Rio out of qualifying followed by a title in Santiago. It’s tougher competition here, but he’s certainly capable. Definitely mark the Chilean as a darkhorse type here even with Tsitsipas in his path. The Greek has not put together back-to-back wins since the Australian Open.
In the other half, it’s Fritz and Tiafoe as the seeds. I will not be surprised to see Tiafoe withdraw from this tournament. If he makes the Houston final on Sunday, he’ll have played four matches in two days due to the rain soaked week in Houston. Asking him to go overseas after that and play in round one likely on Tuesday would be a big ask, so keep your eyes on any announcements. If he does stay in, he’s going to be in position to be upset by Lehecka. For Fritz, he comes in with relatively good form from the Sunshine Double albeit without a marquee push. His opener won’t be easy against either Wawrinka or Griekspoor, but is certainly winnable. I think when you look at this part of the quarter, Fritz seems the far too obvious choice to make the quarters. Dimitrov and Shelton will likely be a fun first round match with the Bulgarian the choice with more success here and on clay at this level. Dimitrov has made the semifinals twice in his last four trips to Monte-Carlo, including last year. Dimitrov may actually have a good shot to make the round of 16 depending on Tiafoe’s status.
All things point to another Tsitsipas’ run to kick off his clay season. We can dwell on his fairly poor run since Australia, but clay has become the Greek’s elixir to all things that ail him. Last year. He’s 40-9 on clay over the past two seasons. If seeding holds, he’d face a guy in Fritz whom he has beaten all three times they have played with none coming on clay, where the action favors Tsitsipas even more. As long as he finds his game early on and finds that confidence, I don’t see why he won’t find himself in the final four in Monte-Carlo.
ONE AND DONE WATCH
Lehecka over (12)Tiafoe
Jarry over (15)Coric
Novak Djokovic is the massive favorite to take this title at 2.0 (+100). Tsitsipas is given the next best odds 8.0 (+700) as the defending champion. After that the odds continue to grow with Ruud and Sinner both found between 11.0 (+1000) and 12 (+1100). Medvedev and Rune are the only others found at odds below 21.0 (+2000) to win the tournament with Meddy around 13.0 (+1200) and Rune at 15.0 (+1400). So are any of the top six worth it this week? I won’t invest in Djokovic at those odds. Is he the best player on the planet? Probably so, but given the layoff the last month and his poor history here lately, even odds are nothing I’m interested in this week. Now Tsitsipas is one I will look at hard in this spot. Getting to stay away from Djokovic until a potential final’s clash is important and his half looks fairly well suited to the Greek finding himself again on clay.
Your investment is obviously about getting your man into the final and if that happens, 8.0 (+700) in a one match for everything setting is an easy sell, right? As for the rest of the top six, I’m still avoiding Ruud this week and Medvedev isn’t someone I’m trusting on clay to get through to a final with that draw. As for Sinner, the odds I guess are fair. I think I would want better since he likely has to go through Djokovic to get to a SEMIFINAL. And with his failure to close out tournaments in the finals he has made, I will pass on the Italian. So who else is worth a look at longer odds? Or is anyone worth it? I mean you can look big at a guy like Norrie at 41.0 (+4000). He will need some help of course being in Medvedev’s quarter and Djokovic’s half, but he is a guy who has proven it already on clay this year. Rublev might be worth a small go if you believe Tsitsipas isn’t going to find his game quickly enough this week. I don’t think Rublev beats Stef on clay, but he certainly can compete with most others in the bottom half for that finals berth.
Long shots are long shots in the end and Masters events, while not bulletproof, have proven more often than not that the favorites are going to be the ones in the mix at the end. If you look at Monte-Carlo, most years it has been one of the big names taking home the prize. Tsitsipas may not have been the favorite the last two years, but being among the top four seeds both times, his price tag was in the modest territory. The last real shocker here was in 2019 when Fabio Fognini won this thing as the 13th seed, taking down Nadal in the semifinals and then an equally surprising Dusan Lajovic in the championship match. Keep that in mind when investing!
Join me @tennispig this week for Monte-Carlo chat plus the doubles preview exclusively on Twitter each tournament.
Tsitsipas 8.0 (+700)
*Norrie 41.0 (+4000)
*half stakes (0.5)