King of Clay: It’s no shocker, but it’s still mighty impressive. Rafael Nadal won his 7th consecutive Monte Carlo championship, defeating David Ferrer in a tight match. It’s a sign of just how dominant Rafa is on clay that his last two matches actually represent a step forward for the field–Andy Murray took a set on Saturday, and there was very little separating Nadal and Ferrer yesterday.
In fact, if I were a fellow player watching those matches, I might think–for the first time in at least a year–that Nadal can be beaten. Murray showed that you can beat him (at least for a string of several games) at his own game, with a heavy dose of patient defense and the occasional attack. Yesterday, Rafa was off his game, and it was enough to give Ferrer several chances. In fact, here’s a bold prediction for you: I’m going on record saying that Nadal will lose a match on clay this year.
Betting on it: I don’t think the oddsmakers agree with me. The betting lines on Nadal’s matches last week were absolutely off the charts. Before Rafa’s second-rounder with Jarkko Nieminen, at one point you could have gotten 120-1 odds on the Finn. Sportsbooks were giving both Richard Gasquet and Ivan Ljubicic about a 3.5% chance of winning, and even Andy Murray merited only a 9% chance. Hey, maybe those odds are correct, but … a top 5 player going off at 11-1? Amazing.
Rankings: The biggest points gainer of the week is Ferrer, who improved on his previous result in Monte Carlo, but he stays at #6, merely closing the gap separating him from Robin Soderling. Other players whose rankings benefited from the tournament include Milos Raonic, up 6 places to #28, Ivan Ljubicic, up 7 to #33, and surprise quarterfinalist Frederico Gil, up 18 to a new career high of #64.
Two challenger winners climbed to new career highs: Matthias Bachinger, champion in Athens, breaks into the top 100 for the first time at #99, while Thomas Schoorel, the Rome titlist, jumps 36 places to 126. Also notable is Tallahassee winner Donald Young, up 24 to #98.
The loser of the week is, without question, Fernando Verdasco. Finalist last year in Monte Carlo, he lost his first match and his place in the top 10, falling four places to #12.
Barcelona: The first round in Spain is in progress, and after the star-studded cast in Monte Carlo, it’s a bit of a letdown. While there’s plenty of firepower at the top of the draw–Nadal, Murray, Ferrer, and Soderling are all present–the top eight seeds have byes in the first round, leaving something that looks more like Monte Carlo qualifying. The highlight of today’s action is probably the last match of the day, between Juan Monaco and Grigor Dimitrov.
We’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the biggest story of the opening round: the return of Juan Carlos Ferrero. He hasn’t played since last year’s U.S. Open, and has seen his ranking fall to #77 in that time. He’ll begin with a match against Xavier Malisse for a chance to play Murray.
Beyond that, it’s a clay-courter’s paradise. 14 of the 56 men in the main draw are Spainards, and the percentage of locals may climb even higher after the first round. Also of interest in the country count: There’s only one American in the draw, and it’s Robert Kendrick. That must be a first for him at the ATP level.
Housekeeping: As regular readers surely noticed, I wasn’t able to keep up my daily schedule last week. Unfortunately, that’s probably a sign of things to come. I’ll keep posting as much as my schedule allows.
Also, later today, as soon as I can get my databases updated, I’ll post my projections for Barcelona. It will be a little silly with so much of the first round on record, but I like to get this stuff on record.