2016 ATP Monte Carlo Preview and Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The red clay season in Europe begins with the Masters 1000 level Monte Carlo stop in the French Riveria. Here is a preview and predictions.
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
Monte Carlo, Monaco
April 10-17, 2016
Prize Money: €3,748,925
Top 8 seeds (Who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Andy Murray (2)
3: Roger Federer (3)
4: Stan Wawrinka (4)
5: Rafael Nadal (5)
6: Tomas Berdych (7)
7: David Ferrer (8)
8: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (9)
Kei Nishikori, John Isner, Kevin Anderson, and Nick Kyrgios are the only big names missing from the MC Masters draw, note this is not a mandatory Masters tournament.
First round matchups to watch:
Alexander Zverev vs. (WC)Andrey Rublev
A battle of 18 year olds that should develop into a future rivalry. Zverev has thus far outpaced Rublev, developing quickly and nearing the top 50. Rublev still languishes outside the top 150, and he has considerably less ATP experience and results, he’s spent most of his time on the challenger tour. Zverev was 9-8 on clay this year, and has improved as a player this year, thus he should dispatch Rublev, but enjoy the shotmaking.
(9)Richard Gasquet vs. Nicolas Almagro
Gasquet should win his fourth straight meeting against the fellow veteran Almagro. The Frenchman is 5-2 over his last seven matches, and playing with home support should further give him a boost. Almagro has been a poor 2-4 since reaching the Buenos Aires final. The veteran Spaniard has been unable to consistently show the form that once made him a top 20 player, still this is an intriguing one handed backhand battle in round 1.
Philipp Kohlschreiber vs. Borna Coric
Kohlschreiber defeated the young gun Coric earlier this year in Dubai, and he’s had a few weeks off since Indian Wells. Coric is currently in the Marrakech final and has demonstrated good form on clay. Given the fatigue factor, Kohli is likely the favorite, but this should be a quality contest as well.
The defending and two-time Monte Carlo champion Novak Djokovic will open with either Jiri Vesely or Teymuraz Gabashvili. Vesely was a semifinalist in Marrakech and with Gabashvili on a five match losing streak, I see Djokovic beating Vesely to reach round 3. In round 3, Gael Monfils is Novak’s likely opponent. The Frenchman is 7-2 over his last nine matches, and will have plenty of home support in MC. Monfils opens with serve and volleyer Gilles Muller, with an Italian to follow, either Fabio Fognini or Paolo Lorenzi. Fognini is returning from an injury, and leads the h2h with Lorenzi 4-0. Djokovic is 11-0 in ATP matches against Monfils, and given his strong recent form he should prevail again.
David Ferrer will have a tough match against the Zverev/Rublev winner, Ferrer dominated Zverev when they met on clay back in 2014, but things have changed, and with his mediocre 2-2 form over his last four matches, he should be on upset alert. Given this is clay, I do tip Ferrer into the third round though. David Goffin is set to have another good Masters tournament as well. The #11 seed opens with current Houston semifinalist Feliciano Lopez with Fernando Verdasco or current Marrakech finalist Federico Delbonis to follow. Given Lopez, and Delbonis should both be jet lagged, Goffin should defeat Verdasco. The Belgian is solid on clay, and reached consecutive semifinals in IW and Miami in recent weeks. Ferrer is 2-0 against Goffin, but given recent form, I give the Belgian the quarterfinal spot.
Roger Federer will make his long awaited return from injury, after an illness forced him out of Miami. The Swiss legend opens with either Thomaz Bellucci or Guillermo Garcia-Lopez before a likely third round meeting against solid Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut. GGL is facing a player on a five match losing streak in Bellucci. RBA opens with dirtballer Albert Ramos, with either Jeremy Chardy, or more likely Andrey Kuznetsov to follow. Kuznetsov is rapidly improving and inside the top 50 now, but RBA’s steady play should be enough to beat him. Federer is 4-0 and has never dropped a set against RBA, so thus if he’s not too rusty he should prevail.
Top French players Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gasquet appear set for a red dirt collision course in the section below Federer. Tsonga will open with Pablo Carreno Busta or a qualifier, while Gasquet faces either Nicolas Mahut or Lucas Pouille after facing a qualifier. The Marrakech quarterfinalist PCB could trouble a shaky Tsonga, but Jo likely prevails while Gasquet should defeat the young Pouille. Gasquet has the clay win over Tsonga and slightly better form, so he should move the h2h to 5-4 if they meet round 3.
Andy Murray did not look good on spring hard courts (2-2), but he was an incredible 17-1 on clay last year and he should open his clay court campaign this year with a win over a qualifier or Guido Pella. Murray is in a very weak section where the other seed, Benoit Paire, is just 1-4 in his last five matches. Paire opens with a struggling Inigo Cervantes, while Joao Sousa should extend Ivo Karlovic’s 0-4 start in 2016, to 0-5 to setup a second round meeting. Either Paire or Sousa could prevail, but Paire has been so poor this season, I have Sousa advancing. Murray should then demolish Sousa (or Paire) to reach the quarters without much stress.
Defending finalist Tomas Berdych is likely to run into fellow big hitter Milos Raonic in round 3. Berdych opens with a qualifier or Robin Haase after going 12-4 on clay last year, and most recently reaching the quarters in Miami. Raonic has been in great form this year with a 17-3 record. He’s a credible 15-7 on clay over the last two seasons, even though it’s far from his best surface. Raonic should dominate a struggling Marco Cecchinato before running into dirtballer Pablo Cuevas in round 2. Cuevas opens with a qualifier, and he’s 11-1 with two ATP titles on clay this season. Raonic vs. Cuevas has a chance to be the best match of round 2, and I give Raonic a slight edge if he can maintain his serve and survive, even though Cuevas is a great clay court player.
Raonic just beat Berdych at IW, and they have never properly met on clay. That should also be a tough battle, but I’m a firm believer in Raonic right now and have him advancing from a difficult section.
Stan Wawrinka is struggling right now. he went 13-4 on clay last year and was the 2014 MC champion but he’s lost two straight matches since winning Dubai. The Coric/Kohlschreiber winner has the skill set to test his game, and he could suffer a third straight early loss. I can’t predict that though and thus I have him running into Gilles Simon in the third round, after the Frenchman deals with Viktor Troicki, and Grigor Dimitrov (or a qualifier). Dimitrov was 9-5 on clay last year and reached the third round in Miami. Simon is 5-0 against Troicki and made the Miami quarterfinals. He was 7-4 on clay last year. Dimitrov beat Simon in Brisbane this year, but Simon won their only match on clay and leads the overall h2h 4-1, given Dimitrov’s inconsistency this year, I have the Frenchman advancing. Wawrinka is 2-0 on clay against Simon, and though either Simon or Dimitrov should give him trouble, I have the Swiss reaching the quarters on clay.
A blockbuster third round matchup should take place between the Rolex Masters legend Rafael Nadal, who won the title seven times between 2005-2012, and the young gun Dominic Thiem, who is at his best on clay and improving quickly. Thiem was 20-6 last year on clay with three clay court titles, and is 8-1 this year with an ATP title on the surface. The Austrian #1 will open with either a qualifier or Adrian Mannarino, who is poor on clay. Nadal was unwell in Miami and exited early, he’s just 12-6 on the season and didn’t win either of his clay court tournaments. His first match could be against Lukas Rosol, or Aljaz Bedene. Thiem stunned Nadal in Buenos Aires, capturing a third set tiebreak, and as good as MC has been for the Spaniard, I have him suffering another disappointing loss, and Thiem reaching the quarterfinals.
Dark Horse: Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, and Pablo Cuevas
Two young guns, and a veteran dirtballer could surprise in MC. Zverev’s path is blocked by Ferrer and Goffin, but if he finds form he could reach the quarters. Thiem could well make the final if he slips past Nadal, Wawrinka/Simon/Dimitrov, and one of Murray/Raonic/Berdych/Cuevas. This is a great chance for him to make his first Masters final. Cuevas has to beat Raonic and Berdych, but don’t count him out for a deep run.
Djokovic d. Goffin
Federer d. Gasquet
Thiem d. Wawrinka
Murray d. Raonic
Djokovic is 4-0 against Goffin and just beat him in Miami, Thiem has a h2h win over Wawrinka (1-1 on clay), Federer has won seven straight against Gasquet, though rust could be an issue, and Murray has won three straight against Raonic, including a clay court win. As poor as the Scot’s recent play has been, he should be a surprise semifinalist.
Djokovic d. Federer
Thiem d. Murray
Nobody is stopping Djokovic, and I have Thiem as my surprise player, reaching his first Masters final this week.
Djokovic d. Thiem
Thiem should give it a good go if he reaches the final, but there is no one in this field except Novak Djokovic himself, that can stop Novak Djokovic. Rafa and Wawrinka are unlikely to even get the chance.