Six things we learned from the Monte-Carlo Masters: Featuring Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
After seeing Italian Fabio Fognini win a maiden ATP Masters 1000 title on Sunday, James Spencer looks back at the main talking points from the Monte-Carlo Masters.
1. Rafael Nadal beatable on clay?
After destroying the likes of Roberto Bautista-Agut and Grigor Dimitrov in his opening rounds, the King of Clay was looking odds on to win a 12th Monte-Carlo Masters crown.
Then he scraped past Argentine Guido Pella, who was 4-1 up in the first set and unable to capitalise when serving for the set. If Nadal was lucky to win that day, he was brought back down to earth by the impressive Fabio Fognini.
The Italian’s array of attacking baseline tennis tore Nadal apart and the 17-time Grand Slam champion looked lost on a court that he has dominated for more than a decade.
It now throws the question as to whether the Spaniard will drop further ranking points in Barcelona and elsewhere during the clay-court season or whether the Fognini loss was purely a one-off.
Having played it coy with the media regarding injuries, it’s difficult to ascertain whether he is still nursing some knocks and/or he is just low on confidence and match fitness.
With 4,500 ranking points to defend from last year, the pressure is on Nadal to deliver.
2. Fabio Fognini comes of age
Monte-Carlo has a new champion. A first Masters 1000 title for Fognini showed why fans and pundits once described him as one of the most naturally gifted clay-court players.
He is now one of the elite few to have beaten Nadal at least three times on the red dirt.
Having watched him dismantle Britain’s Andy Murray, then in his prime, on the coast of Naples in the Davis Cup 2014 quarter-finals for Italy, it showed how good a player he could have become if he was more consistent.
Fognini may well be nursing several injuries of his own but he must build on his Monte-Carlo victory to show he can challenge tennis’ upper echelons in the long term and crack the top 10.
3. Novak Djokovic continues to struggle outside the majors
The world No 1 has suffered early exits in all three Masters 1000 events this year. At Indian Wells he was stunned by 35-year-old German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber and in Miami it was Spaniard Bautista-Agut’s turn to knock him out of kilt. Then last week, Daniil Medvedev added his name to the list of players to shock the Serb this season.
He opted not to take a late wildcard into Barcelona or Budapest so it seems that he’s banking on improving at the next two Masters events in preparation for the French Open.
Whatever way you look at it though, Djokovic’s continued slide gives those in the locker room confidence they can beat him also.
4. Dusan Lajovic impresses
One Serbian who caught the eye last week was the well-mannered Dusan Lajovic. His physique and game is very similar to that of Swiss player Stan Wawrinka.
With strong strokes and a fierce one-handed backhand, Lajovic could cause many top players problems during this clay-court season.
Amazon Prime pundit Daniela Hantuchova stated that no one will want to see their name next to Lajovic in any upcoming draws, and rightly so.
His performances in downing David Goffin and Dominic Thiem were highly impressive. Let’s hope he can continue his hot streak these next few weeks.
5. Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev suffer early defeats
Both players are said to be clay-court specialists after their achievements the past two seasons. However, you would not have thought that based on the performances in Monte-Carlo.
Thiem was easily brushed aside by Lajovic and Zverev showed no fight against the eventual winner Fabio Fognini.
The Austrian and German will have to step up significantly as the clay-court season progresses as both have a glut of ranking points to defend from last year.
6. Roger Federer licking his lips
Having never won the Monte-Carlo Masters, the Swiss legend must have been sat at home pondering whether he should have participated.
Federer may well have been the one holding the trophy and not Fognini, if he chose to participate. However, the Swiss always likes to look at the bigger picture.
Staying fresh for the tournaments ahead and preserving his fitness for the long season seemed like a much more pragmatic approach.
The windy conditions in Monte-Carlo may not have suited his back or his game. So, all in all, Federer and his team probably made the correct call.
As the clay-court season bounces onto Barcelona and then Madrid it will be fascinating to see if Nadal and Thiem can discover their form or whether new challengers will emerge from the shadows.
Follow James Spencer on Twitter @JamesTennis17
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