The European spring clay court season begins with the Masters 1000 stop in Monte Carlo, it’s not a mandatory event, but with such a beautiful venue, and plenty of prize money and ranking points to offer, most of the big names in men’s tennis have headed to the French Riviera to try their luck. Here is a look at those who enter in good form, and the players who are struggling.
ATP Stock Watch: 2016 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
5: Andrey Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov is 13-6 on the season and the highest ranked Russian player at #45. He has more ATP wins than all of his previous years, in a much shorter portion of the season. He’s a solid ball striker and more folks took note of his game after he upset Stan Wawrinka in Miami. He’ll open with a chance to move to 3-0 against Jeremy Chardy on the season, and then should face a tough match against Roberto Bautista Agut. RBA is a solid ball striker himself and a tough out on clay, but he has another shot to reach a Masters third round and improve his ranking. Keep an eye on Kuznetsov through the rest of the clay season to see if he can translate his solid hard court results onto ATP clay.
4: Borna Coric
The young gun Coric is just 11-9 on the season, but he’s in the Marrakech ATP final, and aiming for his first ATP title in the clay court 250. He has all the tools for success, though an opening round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber could mean an early exit due to jet lag in part. Should Coric prevail he’ll have a great shot to upset Stan Wawrinka and make the third round.
3: Milos Raonic
Milos Raonic is 17-3 on the season, and the Canadian #1 would be making more headlines if he hadn’t been injured post AO. His big serving and increased aggressiveness earned him a spot in the Indian Wells final, and he has top 10 wins over Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych this year. Though clay isn’t his best surface, he’s still been entirely respectable on it, and a spot in the semifinals of Monte Carlo would not be out of the question. He has a tough path likely to feature Pablo Cuevas, Berdych, and perhaps Andy Murray, but those are all winnable matches, at a minimum he should continue to set the gold standard for Canadian tennis.
2: David Goffin
Goffin is 16-6 on the year and making his push for a top 10 ranking, as he’s the #1 Belgian player on tour. His strides have not gone unnoticed after making consecutive semifinals in Indian Wells and Miami. The spring clay season on European soil should further boost his performance, as clay is his best surface. With wins over Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem most notably this year he’s in a good position to score an upset over top 10 player David Ferrer and reach the quarterfinals for a rematch of the Miami semis against #1 Novak Djokovic.
1: Dominic Thiem
Thiem has outpaced both Goffin and Raonic, with a 22-6 record and a pair of ATP titles this year. The Austrian #1 has a fantastic shot to reach his first Masters final, after making huge strides at just 22 to reach the top 15. This year he has wins over both Ferrer, and Rafael Nadal on clay, and the red stuff is his best surface. Thiem will need wins over Nadal, Wawrinka, and one of Murray/Berdych/Raonic to reach the final. It’s a tough slate, but with most of those players in poor or average form, he could rise to the occasion.
5: Rafael Nadal
With Thiem looming, the seven time Monte Carlo Rolex Masters Champion Rafael Nadal has six losses on the season already, and just 12 wins, with no ATP titles. Rafa was unwell in Miami, succumbing to the heat, and even on clay he’s been far from his best. Of the “big four”, Nadal’s decline has been the steepest, even though he’s younger than Federer, and Rafa is in danger of falling from the top 5 without being injured. He did reach the semis in Indian Wells, and could find renewal in MC, but something is clearly off with Rafa’s game these days, and other players no longer fear facing him, even on clay.
4: Andy Murray
He has just three losses this year, but two of those have come in the Spring hard court Masters tournaments (IW and Miami), and rather than mounting a challenge to the world #1 Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray instead found himself dropping matches to the lower ranked Federico Delbonis and Grigor Dimitrov. He was remarkable on clay last year, losing just one match at the French Open, but the British #1 faces the tough task of having a lot of points to defend as a result. He has an easy early draw, but Raonic, Berdych or even Pablo Cuevas, could trip him up in later rounds. Without having any matches on clay this season, it’s hard to predict how he’ll perform.
3: David Ferrer
The 34 year old Ferrer has lost the same spark that made him a top player, and like Nadal, he’s no longer a feared opponent, even on clay. Carrying a 12-7 record with no titles, and a 2-2 record over his last two tournaments, Alexander Zverev could deal him a set back early on, if not, David Goffin is likely to defeat him before the quarterfinals. His physical game was bound to finally decline with age, given he’s the “anti-Federer” in terms of style.
2: Benoit Paire
Paire has dropped out of the top 20 and carries a miserable 7-10 record. Rather than making a push to fulfill his potential, this mercurial Frenchman is once again slumping, and will soon lose his seeded advantages. Paire lost his opening round match in Houston on clay, and that sets him up to go out in one of the first two rounds of Monte Carlo, likely in round 2 to Joao Sousa. Paire can be a great player when he’s focused and trying, but his lack of effort, and inconsistencies mean his floor is at the challenger tour level.
1: Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka at his best has demonstrated he can win Grand Slams, and challenge world #1 Novak Djokovic, along with Roger Federer, Murray, and all the other top players across surfaces. This Swiss veteran has perhaps the best backhand in tennis, and he could still have a great clay season. However, his 15-4 record is nothing fancy and he suffered a pair of early losses in the Spring hard court Masters this year. Wawrinka could well suffer an early exit, but at a minimum I’d be surprised if he challenged for this Monte Carlo title, even though he’s a former champion.