Monte-Carlo draw announces European clay court stint in style

The finest players have headed down to the Riviera to send out a signal of intent on the road to RG.

Rafael Nadal in front of the Spanish flag during Monte-Carlo 2018©Antoine Couvercelle/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

With the courts basking in glorious Mediterranean sunshine, with postcard views and the sea lapping up just a few metres from the spectator stands, it can only be the Monte Carlo Masters.

The first clay court ATP Masters 1000 event of the calendar truly signifies the countdown to Roland-Garros with players eager to set out their case to rule in Paris.

The draw ceremony was held on Friday, with the help of 11-time champion Rafael Nadal. Here is what unfolded.

Pouille put to task against former champion

Three contests leap off the draw sheet.

2015 Roland Garros winner Stan Wawrinka will have to navigate past a certain French favourite Lucas Pouille in their first ever meeting. The Swiss lifted the trophy in Monte Carlo back in 2014, so Pouille will need to be in the groove immediately.

Another intriguing battle pitches No.9 seed Borna Coric against Poland’s in-form Next Gen prodigy Hubert Hurkacz. The 22-year-old dispatched Pouille, Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov en route to the Indian Wells quarter-finals and also toppled Dominic Thiem in Miami.

Elsewhere, No.17 seed Kyle Edmund will bludgeon his rocket forehand against the clay court prowess of Diego Schwartzman.

Nadal and Djokovic out to regain supremacy

"I went through some hard times if I’m being honest,” 11-time Roland Garros champion Nadal said at the draw ceremony. “This beginning of the season has been a little bit tough for me in terms of problems.

“The only way is to keep going, keep trying with passion, even if it is tough to accept, tough to wake up again, stand up again and try. Hopefully I will start on Wednesday so I have at least four more days to practice.”

Rafael Nadal lifting the Monte-Carlo 2018 trophy©Antoine Couvercelle/FFT

Gunning for an unprecedented 12th title in Monte Carlo, Nadal has been handed a tricky test. He’ll open facing the relentless work rate of Australian John Millman or countryman Roberto Bautista Agut.

Looking further ahead we would all relish possible clashes with Shapovalov or Wawrinka looming in his quarter.


How about the world No.1?

Well, Novak Djokovic failed to reach a quarter-final spot in the Sunshine Swing and jetted off to the Dominica Republic to recharge the batteries.

The 2016 champion on Court Philippe Chatrier has also etched his name onto the roll of honour at the Monte Carlo Country Club back in 2013 and 2015.

The revitalised 31-year-old will hope to be sharp in order to quell the threat of Thanasi Kokkinakis or Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round. The German posted a spectacular third-round defeat of Djokovic in Indian Wells last month and is an astute clay court competitor.

A sublime quarter-final could witness Djokovic look for revenge for a Rogers Cup loss at the hands of Stefanos Tsitsipas last year.

Jaume Munar, who trains at Nadal’s academy, prevailed in three sets over world No.3 Alexander Zverev in Marrakech last week and it doesn’t get any easier for the towering German in Monte Carlo.

Zverev, the third seed, could take on a qualifier or the Next Gen’s latest charge Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Who is in the strongest position to end Nadal’s reign?

Surely Dominic Thiem, the Roland Garros runner-up in 2018.

The Austrian played astonishing tennis to lift the Indian Wells Masters trophy in March and can also be boosted by previous triumphs over the ‘King of Clay’ Nadal on his preferred surface at Rome (2017) and Madrid (2018). He has the blueprint, can he execute the high-risk sizzling shots in a potential semi-final here?

Firstly, the fourth seed has to find a passage past the likes of rejuvenated No.16 seed David Goffin, who has won their past three battles to lead Thiem in the head-to-head 7-3. Karen Khachanov is a projected quarter-final opponent and the Russian would serve up a severe test of Thiem’s early clay court credentials.

French interest on the French Riviera

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Taylor Fritz

Pierre-Hugues Herbert vs Fernando Verdasco

Jeremy Chardy vs Mikhail Kukushkin

Adrian Mannarino vs Cameron Norrie

Gilles Simon vs Qualifier