2015 ATP Monte Carlo Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The spring European clay court season begins in earnest with the third masters event of the season, the Monte-Carlo Masters in the wealthy seaside playground of Monte-Carlo, Monaco. It’s not a mandatory masters, but all the same most of the top players are participating.
2015 ATP Monte Carlo Preview
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
ATP World Tour Masters 1000
April 12-April 19, 2014
Prize Money: €3,288,530
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Novak Djokovic (1)
2: Roger Federer (2)
3: Rafael Nadal (5)
4: Milos Raonic (6)
5: David Ferrer (7)
6: Tomas Berdych (8)
7: Stan Wawrinka (9)
8: Marin Cilic (10)
15 of the top 20 are in the MC field, with notable exceptions Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Feliciano Lopez.
First round matchups to watch:
(13)Ernests Gulbis vs. Andreas Haider-Maurer
AHM and Gulbis have a split h2h record, but shockingly AHM beat Gulbis on hard court, which is not his surface, and Gulbis has the win on clay, both matches being competitive. Gulbis is higher ranked and the seed here, but this is not as much of a mismatch as it seems on paper. AHM has had a relatively good season on clay, as he comes off a quarterfinal showing in Casablanca and also reached the semis in Rio. Gulbis has only won 1 match this year, hasn’t played on clay, and though he posted a remarkable 17-5 record on the surface last year, he’s not playing anywhere near that level at the moment, with his game entirely lacking confidence and belief at the moment. In theory a return to clay could help Gulbis post resurgent results, but I’m picking Haider-Maurer to continue Ernests misery this season and advance into round 2.
Dominic Thiem vs. (WC)Lucas Pouille
Thiem is the favorite and should win this, but both players are 21 year old young guns with great promise and it’s an intriguing matchup. Thiem started the season off slow but still has two quarterfinals, including one in Miami, and he went 16-7 in clay court tournaments last year (12-7 at the ATP level) after going 46-12 on clay in 2013 at all levels. Pouille went 23-14 on clay last year, primarily at the challenger level and has an ATP semi (Auckland) and a challenger semi from last week on his 2015 resume. He’s an intriguing talent who can hit a wide variety of shots, especially on his forehand side, and he gave Gael Monfils quite the match in Australia. Thiem likely wins in straights, but enjoy it if it goes three sets, presently he’s the more well rounded and accomplished player, and his form in Miami bodes well for his clay court season.
Viktor Troicki vs. Martin Klizan
ATP Casablanca champion Martin Klizan will take on Troicki, a player four years his senior but similar in ranking and ability. Troicki beat Klizan in Sydney this year (2-2 h2h) and they have never met on clay. Troicki went just 1-2 on the hard court masters swing in the US but he has two quarterfinals and an ATP title (Sydney) on his record this year. Klizan just posted his best tournament of the season with the title in Monte Carlo. Last year Klizan went 23-6 on clay while Troicki went 25-4, though that was almost exclusively at the challenger level. Both are accomplished and talented, and given fatigue factor, I give Troicki a slight edge to advance.
(15)John Isner vs. Steve Johnson
These two ATP level American men have played twice before, with a split 1-1 h2h. This will be their first meeting on clay. Johnson comes off a loss to Sam Querrey in the second round of Houston and has slowed down a bit after a strong start to his season that featured three ATP quarterfinals and a third round showing at the AO. Isner by contrast caught fire after a terrible start to his season and went 6-2 between Indian Wells and Miami, only losing to Novak Djokovic twice. He suffered a shocking hangover loss to Teymuraz Gabashvili in Houston, but still he’s been able to maintain a positive clay court record over the past two years (8-5 in 2013 6-5 in 2014). Johnson comparably is still learning the surface, and thus Isner is the favorite but I could see this match going either way.
(16)Tommy Robredo vs. Andreas Seppi
Robredo is the higher ranked seed but he has not had a particularly strong season and he comes off two match losing streak coming into Monte Carlo, after previously going just 2-3 on the clay court golden swing. That said he’s still an accomplished veteran with great acumens on clay. Seppi has slowed down after a hot start to his season where he reached the final in Zagreb and also the round of 16 at the AO with a win over Federer. He’s just 3-4 since Zagreb and hasn’t had a positive tournament record on clay since 2012. h2h wise though Seppi is 2-1 on clay with a long h2h history (Robredo has won the last three meetings, one on clay, and two on hard courts both of which were last season). Given Robredo’s relative dearth of form this season, I’m going with Seppi in an upset.
(9)Grigor Dimitrov vs. Fernando Verdasco
Dimitrov is higher ranked but he’s struggled all season long, while Verdasco has been hot as of late. The Spanish veteran lefty reached the semis in Houston and is 6-3 over his last three tournaments with a win over Nadal in Miami. The h2h is 1-1 with Verdasco havng the clay court win, and both of their prior matches went 3 sets. Verdasco went 13-7 in 2014 on clay and 14-9 in 2013, while Dimitrov went 12-4 and 11-6, as this is a hard matchup to parse.That said, with the jetlag factor from Houston, I give Dimitrov the slightest of edges to advance and find some form on the red dirt after a poor winter/spring hard court season.
Borna Coric vs. Alex Dolgopolov
The 18 year old Coric is a dangerous talent and is likely to do damage on clay this year, that said he did not get the best of draw luck when he drew the in-form Dolgopolov in the opening round. Coric went 8-8 on clay in 2014 after going 14-4 in 2013 while Dolgopolov went 9-9 and 4-8 over the past two seasons on the surface, as fast surfaces likely favor his aggressive approach to tennis. That said Dolgo is 9-4 in his last four tournaments with three of those losses coming at the hands of top 10 players Nishikori, Raonic and Djokovic. He has two ATP quarterfinals in that span and a round of 16 in Miami, where he nearly beat Djokovic. Given his gilbert’s syndrome, Dolgopolov is always unpredictable, but I give him a slight edge to advance over Coric in this must see matchup that will feature big hitting.
Novak Djokovic, one of two Monte Carlo champions not named Rafael Nadal since 2005, and the world number 1 will start off against Denis Istomin or Albert Ramos. Ramos is a qualifier, and should be favored to beat the lucky loser Istomin. He suffered a shock loss in Casablanca round 1 but qualified with relative ease in MC, and he also gave Djokovic a good match on hard court in Indian Wells. Clay is his better surface, but still its Novak Djokovic, so at minimum Novak should get a decent test before the later rounds but a miracle can’t be expected from Ramos. Similarly I expect Djokovic to roll past either the Gulbis/AHM winner or Bernard Tomic. Tomic got past Lukas Rosol in 3 sets in one of the three Sunday main draw matches. He’s had a great season but he’s not a clay courter by any means, so should he beat AHM/Gulbis (AHM actually has a good chance at the third round) I still don’t expect him to get a set off of Novak.
Marin Cilic will open with Florian Mayer, as both of these players are on the comeback from injury path. Mayer had been out for 13 months, while Cilic was out for about 4, and did not play well in his comeback match against Juan Monaco in Indian Wells. Funky Flo just beat Mikhail Youzhny, who is in a terrible slump, on Sunday and the 31 year old is an accomplished clay court player who went 18-10 on clay in 2013, after missing the 2014 clay court season. That said Cilic went 11-6 on the surface last year, and he’s a more talented player all-around, so he should advance and find his form on the dirt.
However, the winner of this section is less likely to be Cilic, compared to the action at the top of it, with 11 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a one time semifinalist in MC, and David Goffin. Goffin went a remarkable 28-5 on clay last year (mostly at the challenger level) while Tsonga went 10-5, and just played his comeback tournament in Miami where he won a round and lost to Gael Monfils. Presuming Tsonga beats current Houston finalist Sam Querrey, and Goffin beats qualifier Norbert Gombos, it will setup a marquee second round matchup. Their h2h is 2-1 in favor of Tsonga but they have never met on clay, Goffin is 3-1 in his last four matches after a slow start to his year and with Tsonga still working into things, I’m going with Goffin in an upset, as I have him beating Tsonga, and then Cilic to reach the quarterfinals. Goffin and Cilic have never met.
Rafael Nadal will open with the Thiem/Pouille winner, the 8 time MC champion hasn’t won the title since 2012, and he’s not near the player he once was as of late. No matter, he has only lost on clay since 2013 to Nicolas Almagro, David Ferrer, Novak Djokovic, Fabio Fognini (this year in Rio), and randomly, Horacio Zeballos. Though he isn’t the player he was, he’s still the king of clay, and he destroyed Thiem at the French Open last year, conceding just 7 games over three sets. Thiem is almost certain to outdo that performance, and I don’t write him off entirely, but Nadal still should be able to get the opening round win, if he doesn’t, the decline is real and worsening. After Thiem/Pouille, Nadal is likely to face Troicki/Klizan. though Isner/Johnson are also in this section. Klizan beat Nadal last year on a hard court, so this section of the draw contains danger for Nadal, but Troicki is most likely to be his opponent, and Nadal is 4-0 against him (though they haven’t met since 2010 and all the matches were on hard courts). As an aside Troicki is 3-1 against Isner and has a clay court h2h win, which is part of the reason why he should advance. Look for Nadal to beat Thiem and Troicki to reach the quarters.
David Ferrer, a one time finalist in Monte-Carlo, who has had a great season with three ATP titles, including one on clay in Rio, will open with the veteran Victor Estrella, who beat Simone Bolelli in an upset on Sunday. Ferrer should have little trouble defeating him, and also 10 seed Gilles Simon to setup a matchup with Nadal that should prove to be quite interesting. Look for Simon, a former semifinalist, to demolish wild card Benjamin Ballaret, and then get past a qualifier, either Denis Kudla or Benoit Paire. Paire, who qualified with ease, has been improving his results and working his way back up the rankings from the challenger tour, after previously losing focus and seeing his career go to ruins, but Simon is still a step up in level. Paire is actually 3-1 against Simon and will certainly have his chance, but they have never met on clay. Simon is 5-3 in his last 8 matches, and lost to Ferrer in routine fashion in Miami.
Roger Federer will open with Jeremy Chardy/Diego Sebastian Schwartzman in the opening round. Chardy comes off a quarterfinal showing on clay in Houston, while DSS qualified comfortably after a shock loss in Casablanca in the opening round. I favor the young Argentine to upset Chardy, but Federer should demolish him, like he did in Indian Wells a month ago. The four-time finalist and world number 2 should be in for a test against 14 seed Gael Monfils in the third round, presuming Monfils beats qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov and the Coric/Dolgopolov winner. Monfils against either Coric or Dolgopolov, is a must-watch match, and he’s 2-0 against Dolgopolov with both matches coming on hard court. He’s never played well in MC (4-8 career record), but he’s still in a good form and has yet to suffer an opening round loss this season, with 1 quarterfinal, a semifinal, a final and a round of 16 in Miami on his record. Monfils upset Federer in Davis Cup play last winter but Federer is 4-1 against him on clay in his career, and thus should have the advantage in what is an exciting matchup.
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka looms in the section above Federer, Wawrinka is in atrocious form at the moment with losses to non-top 20 players Robin Haase, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Adrian Mannarino on his record in his past three tournaments. He hasn’t played a straight set match since Marseille, and was the walking dead in the spring hard court Masters tournaments.Thus, though he is 30-10 over the past two seasons on clay, and he’s the defending champion, I have him losing to Juan Monaco in a second round upset. Monaco, who is in great form, and has had a career resurgence as of late, after being left for dead rankings wise, opens with Jiri Vesely, who broke a losing streak and reached the semifinals in Casablanca. That match will be a good warm up for Wawrinka, and though he is 0-3 (0-2) on clay against the Swiss, he’s a tremendous 10-3 over his last three tournaments with a quarterfinal in Miami, a final in Buenos Aires on clay, and also before that a quarterfinal in Rio on clay. It’s one of the bolder upsets I’ve picked in a while, but Wawrinka doesn’t appear to be fixing what is wrong with his game at the moment and Monaco is an in-form player and a clean ball striker who is in the right place at the right time and should frustrate Wawrinka.
The Wawrinka/Monaco winner is due to face either Dimitrov/Verdasco or Fabio Fognini/Jerzy Janowicz in round 3. This is a stacked and interesting section, as either Dimitrov over Verdasco could make a run, as could Monaco of course. Fognini is only competent on clay these days, as the headcase hasn’t won a match on hard courts this year, but did reach the final in Rio on clay and beat Nadal. Nobody knows how he will play, and likewise Janowicz is an emotional player, who was very much struggling but did win a couple of rounds in Miami. Clay doesn’t suit his power game as well though, so Fognini should win but I have him losing to Dimitrov in the next round (and I feel Verdasco would beat him as well). Dimi and Fogna have a 1-1 h2h. Monaco and Dimitrov have a 3-1 h2h in favor of Monaco, though Dimitrov won their last meeting on clay in 2013. It’s a difficult match to pick, but again I’m going with form and picking Monaco as a quarterfinalist.
4 seed Milos Raonic, who is better on clay than he gets credit for (11-5 last year and 18-10 over the past two seasons), will face Joao Sousa or qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round. ERV is in great form after qualifying, as he’s 8-2 in his last 10 matches, while Sousa has lost three straight. The Portugese number one, being European, is perceived to be better on clay than he actually is (just 7-13 in 2014 on the surface), and I have ERV winning in an upset. Raonic is 2-1 against ERV and beat him on clay so thus Milos should be safe to reach the third round. After that it will be Seppi/Robredo or Adrian Mannarino/Marcel Granollers. Presuming my prediction holds, Seppi should beat Robredo, and then have an easier time against Mannarino/Granollers. Mannarino is in great form and has an ATP final, a semi, and two round of 16s in the srping hard court Masters on his resume with wins over Wawrinka, Gulbis, Fognini and Bautista-Agut this season, while Granollers is slumping and retired in his last match in Casablanca, however Granollers is far and above better on clay, and he may have enough of a surface edge to prevail. Raonic has a lone hard court h2h win over Seppi, and all the same, even though it could be close, look for the Canadian to prevail and reach the quarters, he’s proven to be able to avoid losses against all but the top players with how reliable his serve+forehand power game is, even on clay.
8 seed Tomas Berdych will open with Sergiy Stakhovsky/Pablo Carreno Busta, both players are struggling and PCB has just 1 win since the AO, though he’s a clay courter, while Stako, who prefers fast surfaces is 2-3 in his last five and went just 3-6 on clay last year. I see PCB breaking his losing streak to win that match but Berdych should crush him. Both Benjamin Becker and Roberto Bautista Agut are struggling as well, RBA has lost three straight including a loss in Houston, but still he went 13-6 on clay last year, and Becker is a fast surface player so he should win that match. Philipp Kohlschreiber has had an awful season and has yet to string together consecutive match wins, but he is still the favorite to reach the third round. His opening round opponent Mikhail Kukushkin went just 5-10 on clay last year and retired in his last match in Casablanca (though he upset Albert Ramos in the previous round), and he has a 1-0 h2h with the similarly struggling RBA. He’s an accomplished clay courter who compiled a 29-17 record on the surface over the past two seasons, still Berdych should dispatch him to reach the quarters (8-1 h2h on top of everything else). Berdych went 11-6 last year and 9-6 in 2013 on clay. The Czech has had a great season with two ATP finals (Doha and Rotterdam), the AO semis, quarters in Miami, and two semis in Dubai and Indian Wells.
Dark Horses: David Goffin, Dominic Thiem, Andreas Seppi, Juan Monaco
As mentioned if Goffin beats Tsonga he becomes a small favorite to reach the quarters over Cilic or perhaps Mayer, Djokovic should prove too much for him that but that would still be a great result. Thiem would have to stun Nadal, but I don’t count him out, and I figure he has as good of a chance as Benoit Paire does of beating Simon and Ferrer consecutively, should Thiem upset Nadal he very well could, and likely should reach his second straight Masters quarterfinal.
Seppi has to upset Robredo to get the wheels in motion, but if he does, he should reach the round of 16, and you never now with Raonic if the Italian can hang in there with his serve. Monaco has to get past Wawrinka, but I think he does that, and then also upsets the 9 seed Dimitrov to setup a match with Federer in the quarters.
Djokovic d. Goffin
Nadal d. Ferrer
Berdych d. Raonic
Federer d. Monaco
Djokovic beat Goffin in straights at the French in 2013, Ferrer upset Nadal at this same stage in Monte Carlo last year, and he very well could do so again, I want to pick that upset but I can’t bring myself to do so given Nadal has won all of their numerous other clay court meetings, given this is perhaps his best tournament, one has to think Nadal will find a way no matter the circumstance.
Berdych is better than Raonic on clay even with the 1-3 h2h (all hard court meetings), given his consistent play this season he has to be the favorite to reach another semi, and Federer should deal with Monaco (or Wawrinka/Dimitrov/Verdasco) without too much trouble.
Djokovic d. Nadal
Federer d. Berdych
Nadal may be the king of clay, but he’s not the same player he was and the last four clay court matches between Djokovic and Nadal are a 2-2 split, including the 2013 final where Djokovic beat Nadal. Novak is the undisputed best player in the world right now, while Rafa has slipped from the top three and even with this being Monte Carlo, I don’t see it being an unreasonable pick to take Djokovic over Nadal at this stage in their careers, given the 2 out of 3 set format, Djokovic should be able to conjure a victory.
Federer-Berdych is another interesting matchup, and Federer is 3-0 in the clay court h2h. Berdych’s power can bother the maestro at times, but on clay, the advantage swings to the Swiss and thus he should prevail.
Djokovic d. Federer
Once again Federer should fall short in the Monte Carlo final, what would be a fifth time. Djokovic just beat him in IW, and though Federer beat him in the MC semis last year, Djokovic won the previous two meetings before that on clay and their clay court h2h is just 4-3 in favor of Federer since 2006. Unless their are verifiable reasons to believe otherwise, going against the world number 1 to win a title seems like a mistake right now.