A postcard from - Monte Carlo 2021

Champagne, caviar and a sprinkling of tennis

Welcome to Monte Carlo—where opulence is expected, being poor a sign of bad manners, and when people apologise for being late because they couldn’t find anywhere to park, they don’t mean their Honda Civic but a 20-meter yacht.

Speaking of yachts—when, after a day of spirited tennis, you’re out for a walk in Monte Carlo’s breathtaking Port Hercule, keep an eye out for Lady Moura. The 105-metre Blohm+Voss superyacht, boasting an impressive selection of amenities including a helipad, a movie theatre, a gym, a study, a medical suite, and a collection of 13 bedrooms, can now be yours for a mere $125,000,000.

And now on to the tennis…

Money makes the world go round

The city of Monte Carlo, asset rich but cash poor, is tightening the purse strings.

The tournament organisers followed the example set by other events, pandemically spectatorless, and decided to reduce the prize money.

The winner of this year’s tournament will be awarded $251,085 which makes for 26% of the $958,055 Fabio Fognini took home when he defeated Rafa Nadal in the final of the event’s last edition in 2019.

But what does this mean in practical terms, you may ask. Whereas Fognini might have been able to make a downpayment for Lady Moura, this year’s winner can barely afford the box it comes in.

The clay is not okay

“Honestly, there's nothing I like on clay. There's always bad bounces, you're dirty after playing. I really don't enjoy playing on clay.”

In a pre-tournament press conference, Daniil Medvedev admitted that he doesn’t like his socks orange.

While over the past three years Medvedev has produced a monstrous level of hard court tennis—winning ten trophies, making two Slam finals, and wedging himself between Djokovic and Nadal in the rankings—his record on clay is far less impressive.

Here’s an interesting fact: current world number two, Daniil Medvedev, had never made it past the first round of the French Open (GS), Madrid Open (M1000) or Italian Open (M1000)—the three biggest clay court tournaments in the tennis calendar.

The rarefied air of Monte Carlo makes for a notable exception. From 2016 to 2019, Medvedev enjoyed slow but steady progress, reaching the qualifying, first, second, and semifinal rounds consecutively. If his linear progress were to continue, this year’s edition of the Monte Carlo Masters would finally see Medvedev lift a trophy.

Alas, shortly after the start of the tournament, a positive Covid-19 diagnosis forced his withdrawal, robbing Daniil of the chance to improve his clay court record.

We wish Daniil a speedy recovery, and hope to see him back on a tennis court soon!

Questions, please

If you’re anything like me, you might have a recurring nightmare in which you turn up to class unprepared, and the teacher announces a test. Also, you’re not wearing any trousers.

A version of that nightmare, minus the trouser thing, played out in real-time during a press conference following Hubert Hurkacz’s first-round win over Thomas Fabbiano.

Having requested Hurkacz’s presence, the journalists in attendance failed to muster a single question for the recent Miami Open champion. The whole presser consisted of the media officer prompting the journalists for questions—first in English, then in Polish—only to be met with awkward silence.

After 43 seconds, Hurkacz got up and left. “A press conference with no questions, that's a new one,” he voiced his disbelief, albeit with a smile.

Good things come in small doses

Before the start of the tournament, British number one and the 33rd racquet in the world, Dan Evans, had played 166 matches on Tour level. Of those, 17 matches had been on clay. Of the 17 matches he had played on clay, 13 had been losses.

When Evans walked out on court to face world number one Novak Djokovic in the third round, to say that he was an underdog would be an understatement. He had more of a chance of sinking Lady Moura with one of his forehands than he had of bruising Djokovic.

When the match started, Evans was not thinking about any of that—he raced off to a blistering start, breaking Djokovic’s serve, holding his own, and breaking him again for a 3:0 lead. Djokovic, known for his relentless attitude, worked his way back into the match by recovering both breaks, but then dropped his serve again, handing Evans the chance to serve for the set, which he duly did.

At the start of the second set, Djokovic briefly remembered that he is one of the best tennis players in the world, and took a 3:0 lead. Suddenly, it was Evans who was chasing the game—which he managed to—and when Djokovic dropped his serve again at 5:5, Evans served it out in a routine fashion for the biggest win of his career.

This was Evans’s seventh win on clay—he would notch another one defeating David Goffin in a three-set thriller, and doubling his record on the dirt—before eventually losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semi-finals.

🇬🇧 Dan Evans d. 🇷🇸 Novak Djokovic - 6:4 7:5

Insurrection

When Andrey Rublev booked his date with the reigning King of Clay, he was asked if he’s excited to be playing Rafa Nadal on the red surface for the first time. Rublev, experiencing a number of emotions, a list of which likely didn’t include excitement, shook his head with a wince and a smile saying, “Not really.”

However, it wasn’t that bad. A combination of Nadal having a day off, and Rublev being very much on top of his game—with ruthless ball-striking, clever match-tactics, and a strong mental game to withstand Nadal’s second-set comeback—gave the Russian a well-deserved victory, taking the match 6:2 4:6 6:2 in 2h33min.

Nadal, whose hold over his clay domain is virtually absolute, seems to be relinquishing his control in Monte Carlo—one of his oldest fiefdoms. For the second time in a row, he left not with his shield, but on it.

For now, the throne is safe in the city of Paris where the King will retreat to lick his wounds. It wasn’t quite the regicide, but an insurrection—and blood has been spilt.

Nadal’s own view of the loss was stoic acceptance. “When you face a great player like him and you don’t play well, you should lose, no?” he said. “It was a day to forget. Playing bad and doing it against a top player is a killer cocktail.”

🇷🇺 Andrey Rublev d. 🇪🇸 Rafa Nadal - 6:2 4:6 6:2

Quarter-finals

After the dust settled, eight players emerged from the red maelstrom of the early rounds.

In the first quarter-final, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who was having his best Masters tournament yet, had to withdraw with a thigh injury after losing a tough first set 7:5 to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Casper Ruud, a 22-year-old Norwegian player with a genuine aptitude for clay, made quick work of the last edition’s finalist, Fabio Fognini, bludgeoning him into submission with a 6:4 6:3 in 1h38min.

Dan Evans had to wrestle a victory out of David Goffin’s grasp after the crafty Belgian, playing in front of home lack-of-audience, came back from 3:5 down to take the first set.

After that sobering experience, Evans had a talk with himself and started playing like the man who had just ended Novak Djokovic’s unbeaten 11-match start to the season. He commanded the following two sets with little trouble, winning the match 5:7 6:3 6:4 in 2h44min.

In the last quarter-final, Andrey Rublev shook the crown on Rafa Nadal’s head, winning 6:2 4:6 6:2.

The semis pitted Stefanos Tsitsipas against Dan Evans, and Andrey Rublev versus Casper Ruud. Both Tsitsipas and Rublev took less than 1h30min in their respective matches to book a spot in the final.

According to the bookmakers, Rublev was a slight favourite to lift the trophy but inspired shot-making and an impeccably executed game-plan allowed Tsitsipas to control the match with ease, and eventually win his first Masters 1000 tournament, 6:3 6:3 in 1h12min.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, an accomplished clay courter in his own right, will see the win as an affirmation of his dominance on the dirt—having previously reached semi-finals of the Italian Open and the Rolland Garros, a final of the Madrid Open and now lifting the Monte Carlo Masters trophy.

“I can’t describe my feelings right now. I would consider it as the week of my life so far,” the elated Greek said before he wandered off in the direction of champagne and caviar.

Tsitsipas moves up to the first spot in the race to the ATP Finals in Turin.

🇬🇷 Stefanos Tsitsipas d. 🇷🇺 Andrey Rublev - 6:3 6:3

Deep dive

If you’ve ever played on clay, you will surely know the joy of pouring half a pound of red powder out of your shoes.

Does it happen to the pros, too? Probably. How do they deal with it? We don’t know. How much sand gets carried out in shoes every year during the Monte Carlo Masters? We also don’t know.

But what we do know, and have analysed in this week’s Deep Dive, is the popularity of shoe brands at this year’s tournament.

Here’s a quick trivia: who is the main draw player who wore a pair of Le Coq Sportif shoes this edition of the Monte Carlo Masters?

You can find the answer at the bottom of the newsletter.

Barcelona draw

Rafa Nadal will begin his quest for the 12th Barcelona trophy with a match versus a qualifier.

Were he to extend his 61:4 Barcelona record, he will have to overcome an undoubtedly tough challenge from Cristian Garín, Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini, or Pablo Carreño Busta—players who live and breathe clay (not literally—that wouldn't be healthy).

In the bottom half of the draw, Monte Carlo champion, Stefanos Tsitsipas, faces a similar problem. From the get-go, he will have to navigate a tricky encounter with the winner of wild-card Jaume Munar versus Thiago Monteiro, followed by potential matches against Alex de Minaur, Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Andrey Rublev, Jannik Sinner, or Roberto Bautista Agut.

17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz Garfia and 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti were also awarded wild-cards into the main draw of the tournament, giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent on the big stage.

Alcaraz, in Nadal’s half, faces Frances Tiafoe in the first round, while Musetti, in Tsitsipas’s half, will go up against a man twice his age, veteran Feliciano López.

Around the net

Trivia answer: Lucas Pouille