World Number One Novak Djokovic, rested and ready to return to professional tennis, sits atop a hillside of luminaries in the 2023 Monte-Carlo Masters Draw. After a hiatus from tennis due to his unvaccinated status, Djokovic lands in a talented quarter with hot-streaked Italian Jannik Sinner.

After a bye, Djokovic will face the winner of an All-American clash between Brandon Nakaskima and Makenzie McDonald. Notable names in this quarter include Hubert Hurkacz and Lorenzo Musetti, who famously took Novak to 5 sets at the 2021 French Open before the Italian had to bow out with an injury. Djokovic has breezed past Musetti two times since, but both of those meetings were on hard court.

Djokovic Sinner Possible Quarterfinal

No player likes to look ahead, but fans do. The prospect of a Djokovic – Sinner match has the makings of an epic, at least in best-of-3. Djokovic came from 2 sets down to beat Sinner at Wimbledon last summer. Prior to that, the 22-time Grand Slam Champion beat the Italian 6–4, 6-2 at Monte-Carlo in 2021.

The Italian’s game has shown rapid improvement in the past 12 months, however. His first serve has now reached elite status, averaging over 194 kmh (121 mph). And Sinner blisters 2nd serve returns these days. That said, speed is mitigated on this surface. Djokovic will be ascending in terms of his fitness and form. It should be a master class of very special tennis if it happens.

“Hard Court Specialist” Daniil Medvedev

After Daniil Medvedev won the Miami Open last week, he stopped by the Tennis Channel interview desk and was ribbed about calling himself a “hard court specialist.” Reminded that he made the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in 2021, Medvedev quickly added, “And the semifinals of Monte-Carlo.” He knows. He’s aware. Meddy has potential on this surface, if for no other reasons than his speed and height. If the conditions are right, his serve will be a weapon.

But it’s not Medvedev’s most comfortable surface, and that’s why I call this part of the draw the “carnival quarter.” It’s filled with players who have questions looming. Alexander Zverev continues his journey back to elite form after ankle surgery. Matteo Berrettini and Cameron Norrie have not played their best recently. Berrettini, unseeded, will face “you-just-never-know” serve and volleyer Maxime Cressey in the first round. Dominic Thiem, once dominant on this surface, gets a wild card and faces Richard Gasquet. Domi should win that one. If he does, he’d face talented threat Holger Rune, who has a bye with a 6 seed. It’s anyone’s quarter.

Ruud, Rublev and the Staid Quarter

The other half features a quarter of businesslike tennis stars including Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina plays Khachanov to provide some sparkle, and Alex DiMinaur should give Andy Murray a few long rallies to contend with in their first round contest. That one has to go three, yes? I see one of the businessmen emerging from this quarter. Rublev holds the edge over Ruud 4-2 in their head-to-head, with Rubie having a surprising 3-0 advantage on clay.

The Servers’ Quarter

Sometimes the courts at Monte-Carlo play faster, particularly if the weather has been warm and dry for several days heading into the tournament. This part of the draw is loaded with guys who would like that, including 2-time defending champions Stefanos Tsitsipas. Poor Stef soldiered through the Sunshine Double with shoulder pain, however. He’ll get a much-needed bye, then not worry much until Borna Coric and/or Francis Tiafoe later in the week. If he feels ok, he can handle those guys on his favorite surface. But his bookended possible opponent is Taylor Fritz, and that’s where things could get complicated in the quarterfinals. Fritz lost a no-shame match to Alcaraz in Miami, and is showing better mobility and fit form heading into clay season.

Incidentally, circle young American Ben Shelton versus Monte Carlo resident Grigor Dimitrov as a fun first-round tilt. We’ll see what the upstart can do against an experienced local favorite on his home court.

My players to watch:
QF: Djokovic, Rune, Rublev, Fritz
SF: Djokovic, Fritz
F: Djokovic


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