The real signal of our move to the clay court season is the Monte Carlo Masters. This is the first of 3 Masters 1000 events to be played before the French Open, the other two being Madrid and Rome of course.
The question is can we draw conclusions from results here? The courts are so slow here (compared to Madrid for example) that it’s hard to do that. The big serve is somewhat negated here and ace counts are lower here than in almost any ATP event. One conclusion that we can confidently count on is Rafa Nadal reaching the final. He has won this tournament 11 times and no player is more dominant on clay. In the past 12 months, he has suffered only one defeat on clay, to Dominic Thiem on the much faster courts in Madrid. Nadal is the defending champion having utterly dominated last year. He didnt drop a set and lost just 21 games in the tournament. If he is fit, he will not be stopped this year. He is a strong favourite and you would be brave to go against him.
Novak Djokovic is also in the running this year. I say ‘in the running’ because I’m not confident backing him right now. After the Australian Open, he’s had a difficult time. At Indian Wells and Miami he was knocked out by unfancied opponents in Kohlschreiber and Agut, the latter of which was not such a shock to me. Djokovic will face Kohlschreiber or lucky loser Taro Daniel in his first outing. Daniel is coming from a good run in Marrakech, while Kohlscreiber was knocked out early. It won’t get easier for Djokovic who could face Edmund or Tsonga in the following round. It is very hard to make a case for Djokovic going deep in this tournament.
The man for me in the top half (with Djoko) is Dominic Thiem. All things consideded, I think he can win out this half to set up another final against Nadal. If that happens, I would expect Nadal to win on the slower courts of Monte Carlo.