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Monte Carlo Masters - 10 talking points

Novak Djokovic holds the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy with a crowd of fans in the background
by Alex Sharp
Monday 20 April 2015

After the ATP breezed through the first clay Masters of the season, what have we learned? Wimbledon.com picks out 10 things to think about...

world No.1 is thriving within his dominance

Novak Djokovic has well and truly quashed any fears that the pressure and furore surrounding his serene start to the season are affecting his performance on court. The 27-year-old withstood a barrage of heavy hitting from Tomas Berdych to win the Monte Carlo Masters 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. That’s a 17th straight win for the world No.1, a second Monte Carlo title and a 23rd Masters crown in total. The Serbian said after Sunday’s triumph he needs to pinch himself when reflecting on his start to the season, which has included the Australian Open and becoming the first player to win the first three ATP Masters events of the season (Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo).

"I'm 27," said Djokovic in his press conference. "Obviously I'm experiencing the time of my life on the tennis court, and also private life is very good. I became a father. I'm just trying to sometimes pinch myself and say, 'Where am I at this point in my life?' I'm very grateful for this, for everything that I have. That's the kind of philosophy."

Djokovic will now take a "much needed" fortnight break before turning his attentions to the Masters in Madrid and Rome. The rest of the draw will be desperate to avoid lining up against the soaring Serb.

Berdych can provide a sterner test on clay this season

Could Tomas Berdych be the man to break the dominance of the ‘big four’ this clay court season? It’s a question which frequently surfaces at Grand Slams as the Czech promises huge potential but has fallen just short in the past. The 29-year-old stormed to the Monte Carlo Masters final and pushed Djokovic for over two and a half hours. That’s impressive in its own right. However Berdych seems far more determined this season under the stewardship of Dani Vallverdu and with his ferocious power, he threatens to impact the end of tournaments on the clay court swing. Whether he can prevail at Roland Garros is another matter, his best showing a semi-final appearance in 2010, but he’ll have to maintain the aggression and persistence displayed in Monte Carlo to have a slither of a chance.

Is Rafa back?

The headlines highlight that the ‘King of Clay’ fell with relative ease 6-3, 6-3 to the on-song Novak Djokovic. However the lead up to the clay season had seen a discouraged Nadal concerned with on-court frailties and a lack of conviction in his game. The Spaniard was not at his lung-bursting best but the eight-time Monte Carlo champion managed to reach the semi-finals. He also managed, in a very Rafa like manner, to battle through a duo of gruelling three-set matches with John Isner and David Ferrer last week. So questions will still hang over Nadal’s potential, but Monte Carlo certainly proved he is back on the right dirt track. 

Monfils on the march

Watching Gael Monfils at his playful, jovial best is a pleasure for any tennis fan. His inconsistency has always held back the hugely talented Frenchman but at Monte Carlo, Monfils appeared completely rejuvenated. The 28-year-old defeated Alexandr Dolgopolov before overcoming Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov with electric performances. He has the versatility to thrive on clay, having previously made a semi-final and two quarter-finals at Roland Garros. In Monte Carlo he expressed a hunger, a drive to beat the top names. The only issue was he picked up a measly five games in the last four loss to Berdych. However, if he continues in such a vein then the gregarious Frenchman can become a real dark horse for the upcoming clay swing.

Federer has plenty on his plate               

Roger Federer at the age of 33 is understandably managing his schedule and cherry picking events. The Swiss maestro skipped the Miami Masters to rest up and train for Monte Carlo. Despite this ploy, Federer fell to a shock third-round defeat by Monfils. The unpredictable nature of the mercurial Monfils doesn’t make it a huge surprise. Saying that, it is not a result you’d expect from Djokovic or Nadal on the red dirt. Federer’s camp has revealed the 17-time Grand Slam champion will skip the Rome Masters to provide him with an extra week of preparation for Roland Garros but surely the Monfils loss proved he needs match play to transform into a contender in Paris.

The chasing pack need to progress...quickly

Quite rightly so, all the talk on tour is about Djokovic steamrolling to titles. Aside from the usual suspects, just who is emerging to challenge the elite for titles on Tour? 2014 Monte Carlo champion Stan Wawrinka continues to stutter and was trounced by Dimitrov 6-1, 6-2. Wawrinka seems lost, lacking assurance in his game whereas Dimitrov was swept aside by Monfils. Promising Canadian Milos Raonic retired injured when behind to Berdych and US Open champion Marin Cilic was thrashed 6-0, 6-3 by Djokovic. In short, the chasing pack are not pushing the big guns hard enough. Can anyone break through in Barcelona?

Surprise package Isner

One possible contender to cause a stir on clay this season is towering American John Isner. The 29-year-old, who has previously featured in the top 10, took Nadal to three sets in Monte Carlo and managed to showcase a clay game of much more than just his giant serve. His movement seems to have improved on the dirt and Isner is in fine form this season, having made the Miami semi-finals, losing to eventual champion Novak Djokovic 7-6, 6-2. Isner will need to add more strings to his bow to challenge for titles during the clay swing but his recent showings have proved he can be a true threat on his day to the big guns.

Ferrer on the slide?

As Wimbledon.com has discussed previously, David Ferrer must be one of the best or the best player to never win a Grand Slam. The Spaniard has come close before, reaching the 2013 Roland Garros final on the clay. The 4-6, 7-5, 2-6 loss to Nadal in Monte Carlo had a far too familiar feeling to it. Nadal dominating, Ferrer battling back and never giving up, but ultimately his countryman prevailed in style. It sounds harsh but Ferrer is on the cusp of a decline. At the age of 33 it must be desperately hard to maintain his astonishing work rate and fitness levels. As he approaches a crucial period for ranking points, Ferrer is at a crossroads of competing again with the top players or falling down the pecking order.

Rolling onto Barcelona

The clay season now immediately heads to Barcelona. Reigning champion Kei Nishikori, who ended a run of 11 straight years with Spanish champions in Barcelona to cruise past Santiago Giraldo 6-2, 6-2 last year, retuns to the fold to try and retain his title. Rafael Nadal steps up his Roland Garros preparations alongside David Ferrer, Marin Cilic, Feliciano Lopez, Jo Wilfried-Tsonga. Can any emerge to capitalise upon Djokovic’s rest?

Fed Cup final line-up

Reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova guided the Czech Republic to a 3-1 victory over France in the Fed Cup semi-finals by winning both of her singles matches against Kristina Mladenovic and Carloline Garcia. The 2014 winners will now contest their fourth Fed Cup final in five years against Russia. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina were the heroes, winning the deciding doubles to defeat Germany in Sochi.

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