Back on the board: It’s a strange situation when you don’t really expect a top-five player to win his opening match. Yet Andy Murray had plenty of doubters before he finally won his first match since the Australian Open. As it turned out, he made easy work of Radek Stepanek, advancing to the round of 16 in straight sets.
Murray’s seeded, straight-set win was indicative of the entire round. Only two seeds lost in the 16 second-round matches, and only a couple other matches could be considered upsets. What’s more, only three matches in the round went to a third set.
The one major upset went to a man having nearly as rough a season as Murray: Fernando Verdasco. He lost in straight sets to Tommy Robredo, landing only 53% of his first serves. I suppose that isn’t quite as painful as losing to Pablo Andujar on a hard court, but it does nasty work to his ranking. Verdasco reached the final last year, so he’ll fall at least four spots to #12.
A lesser surprise, but still notable, was Milos Raonic’s win over Ernests Gulbis. Both players suffered some mental hiccups–Raonic couldn’t close out the match with 40-0 on his own racquet–but as usual, Gulbis’s mind lost the match for him. A bad call in the middle of the first set kept him chattering at the umpire for the next several changeovers, and that was more than enough to give Raonic the first set. The Latvian didn’t return to form until midway through the second, and Raonic was too strong to let it slip away.
The round of 16: You have to feel bad for Richard Gasquet–he showed fantastic form in beating Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and he’s rewarded by a match with Rafael Nadal. At Monte Carlo, that’s just an elaborate form of ritual sacrifice. At least the sportsbooks think more highly of him than they did of Jarkko Nieminen–Gasquet gets a 3.5% chance of beating Rafa, while at one point, oddsmakers were giving Nieminen less than 1%.
Thanks to the surface, the best bet for an upset tomorrow is the match between Tommy Robredo and Viktor Troicki. Troicki is the seed, but of course Robredo is at home on clay. My system gives the Spainard a 54% chance of winning, while oddsmakers set it at closer to 62%. It’s a better deal for Troicki than a matchup against Verdasco, but it will still be impressive for him to get through.
The winner of Robredo-Troicki faces the winner of Raonic-David Ferrer. Ferrer was the man who finally stopped Raonic in Australia, and on clay, he should have an easier time of it. His 6-2 6-0 drubbing of Feliciano Lopez today certainly suggests that he’s in form. Then again, the Canadian has exceeded expectations in both round so far, and he has the benefit of zero expectations.
There’s plenty more to look forward to. Both my system and the sportsbooks forecast a tight contest between Nicholas Almagro and Jurgen Melzer; Almagro fought through a three-setter with two tiebreaks to beat Maximo Gonzalez today. In the other half of the draw, Murray will face a tough match against Gilles Simon, who has cruised through his first two rounds. And Roger Federer will try to fend off Marin Cilic.
Challengers: Just a couple of quick updates today. Cedrik-Marcel Stebe continues to impress, taking out Evgeny Donskoy for a quarterfinal berth in Rome. He’ll face yet another youngster, the tall lefty Thomas Schoorel, who has beaten two qualifiers to get this far.
In Tallahassee, James Blake needed three sets to get past Frank Dancevic. He’ll play Amer Delic later today for a spot in the quarters. The first man into the quarters was Donald Young, who can look forward to a probably matchup with top seed Rainer Schuettler.
See you tomorrow!