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Clay Season Ramps Up in Monte Carlo

by Dustin Petzold | Posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014
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Monaco’s Benjamin Balleret smiles while plotting his defeat of Rafael Nadal in the 2015 Monte Carlo Rolex Masters

Unless you’re in France, Spain, or South America, clay is probably your least favorite of the three tennis surfaces. In the United States, Roland Garros and its red-dirted stepchildren tend to take a back seat to Wimbledon, the US Open, and US Open Series events. Rafael Nadal has so thoroughly dominated the ATP World Tour’s clay-court seasons over the course of his career that he seems a lock to lift the championship trophy at this week’s Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, which began Monday. But many tennis fans had the same unshakable faith in Nadal before he took the court against Stanislas Wawrinka in January’s Australian Open men’s final. Nadal, who plays his opening-round match tomorrow, has some tough competitors hoping to take him out in the later rounds, as the tournament draw features each of the ATP’s top six players. Those who are pining for the green grass or blue asphalt of this summer’s tournaments shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss what’s happening in tennis this month and the next.

Last year, Novak Djokovic denied Nadal his eighth consecutive Monte Carlo title, and he began his championship defense earlier today by dispatching Spanish qualifier Albert Montanes 6-1, 6-0 in just 45 minutes. Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych, who looms as a potential quarterfinal opponent for Djokovic, knocked off Dmitry Tursunov in the final match of today’s schedule.

One of the highlights of Monte Carlo is the fact that Monaco’s tennis players get a rare chance to prove themselves against more experienced competition. This year, the country, which has the same number of citizens as Novak Djokovic has coaches and trainers, sent out Benjamin Balleret and Romain Arneodo to defend the honor of the red and white. The two players, ranked 275th and 547th, respectively, both lost their matches in straight sets, but surely delighted all of the Monacans/Monaconians/Monacese in attendance.

Rafael Nadal, Stanislas Wawrinka, and Roger Federer all take the court tomorrow, but none of them face opponents who are likely to give them much trouble. In fact, few of tomorrow’s matches jump out as must-watch contests. One potentially interesting match pits the unorthodox seventeen seed Alexandr Dolgopolov against veteran clay-court specialist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, who is fresh off a championship win in Casablanca last week.

This year’s Monte Carlo Rolex Masters is notable for having no Americans in either the main draw or the qualifying draw, despite the fact that several were ranked high enough to gain entry. Top three Americans John Isner, Bradley Klahn, and Steve Johnson took the week off, while the rest of the United States’ players ranking in the top 100, Donald Young, Jack Sock, and Michael Russell, are spending the week  on the green clay courts of the Sarasota Open. This event begins a three-tournament series, in which the highest-performing American player will earn a wild card into Roland Garros next month.

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