Monte Carlo | Djokovic falls while Nadal moves on
Good Friday was a great day for clay court tennis and produced four excellent quarter-final matches on the Prince Rainier III court resulting in a semi-final line up which surprisingly doesn’t feature the world number one.
Look, maybe I’m lacking the consistency with the top results in the last couple of years in the best tournaments, but Grand Slams I have been playing my best, and that’s what I intend to do Novak Djokovic
Playing second on the day’s schedule for the main show court, Novak Djokovic, chasing his third Monte Carlo Masters title, was comprehensively outplayed by tenth seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia, 6-4 4-6 6-2.
For Medvedev it was sweet revenge for his loss in the last 16 to the Serbian at this year’s Aussie Open. This time, in what was proving a windy albeit sun-blessed day, the 23-year-old captured Djokovic’s serve five times taking full advantage of the conditions which discomfited his opponent, who also went out early in last month’s Indian Wells and Miami.
Djokovic swept aside any concerns in his post-match interview declaring he was preparing his game for the second Grand Slam of the year in Paris.
“Well, yeah, for sure. I mean, French Open is the ultimate goal on clay, and I hope I can – I mean, for sure, it’s expected in a way for me to peak right at that tournament, because that’s what I’m aiming for,” he stuttered ‘This is only the first tournament on clay, and it’s a long season. Let’s see how it goes.
“Look, maybe I’m lacking the consistency with the top results in the last couple of years in the best tournaments, but Grand Slams I have been playing my best, and that’s what I intend to do.”
He the went on to congratulate the Russian who had revealed earlier in the week that he had decided to take the game more seriously and work harder. On this occasion his new work ethic has been justified as he won four clay court matches in Monte Carlo, three more than he did in the whole of last year’s clay curt season.
“He’s got a very solid backhand. He doesn’t make many mistakes from the backhand. He hits it very low with depth,” Djokovic, who had made 47 unforced errors during the two-hours and 20-minutes of play, added.
“You know, a windy day like today, you know, conditions are changing every single game. It’s kind of tough, you know, to find the rhythm, and he doesn’t give you much rhythm.
“He’s got a big serve. His forehand can be effective, but also, he can make mistakes from that corner, so the backhand is obviously the more solid one. But he improved his movement a lot since last year. He definitely deserves to be where he is.”
Medvedev now goes on to face another Serbian, the 28-year-old Dusan Lajovic who opened the day’s proceedings by overcoming the Italian qualifier Lorenzo Sonego, 6-4 7-5 after 107-minutes to secure the first Masters 1000 semi-final slot of his career. And he had achieved that by not dropping a set all week and dispatching the fourth seeded Dominic Thiem in the previous round.
“Right now it’s a relief and I showed to myself that I could do it. The tournament is not over yet, but I am extremely happy and satisfied with the way I played this week. To be in the semi-finals of a Masters 1000 in such a strong tournament, it’s really a big boost of confidence,” said Lajovic who no doubt expected to be facing his fellow countryman Djokovic rather than Medvedev who is also enjoying his best run at this level of the ATP Tour.
And when the world number two and defending champion Rafa Nadal took to the court, there was great interest to see how the 11-time Monte Carlo champion would fare considering his rival’s earlier demise at the event, and the experienced Argentine left-hander he would be facing.
Guido Pella was another first-time quarter-finalist at Masters level with plenty of clay court success achieved during the South America swing earlier this year. He won in Rio, made the final of Cordoba and the semis in Buenos Aires.
However, Nadal has won both their previous matches and was on a 17-match winning streak in Monte-Carlo having built a 70-4 winning record at the tournament. Additionally the champion had dropped only seven games in his first two matches during the week to make his 15th consecutive quarter-final at the tournament.
It proved an intriguing contest. Pella’s game is much like Nadal’s, heavy top spin and plenty of baseline aggression but the Spaniard remains the master of the red dirt, but not before he was given a bit of a fright as the Argentine swept into a 4-1 lead and came within a point of making it 5-1!
Having made a series of surprising errors, Nadal suddenly realised that he was in danger of following his rival out of Monte Carlo, and after a tough eight-minutes of intensive play, he recovered one of the breaks back in that sixth game playing through three deuces and saving one break point.
And Nadal repeated the effort after a convincing hold, this time producing a winner on his cross-court drive: They were all square again, 4-4.
Pella, however, fought back and in the 11th game captured the Nadal serve for a third time to lead 6-5. Again the champion retaliated to level and force the tie-break which he dominated from the outset to snatch set after 81-minutes, a set he looked close to losing.
It was business as usual for Nadal in the second set and he claimed his place in the last four after two-hours and 20-minutes 7-6(1) 6-3.
“It was very important for me to finish in two sets,” Nadal said later. “Losing the first three games was tough but I found a way at the right time. Sometimes these matches help for rhythm because you suffer.”
Last year Nadal won the event without conceding more than four games in a set so Pella could be happy with his performance against the King of Clay!
“I was lucky to escape [in the sixth game] and then I played better,” the Spaniard added.
The Mallorcan had to wait to till early evening for his next opponent to come through and he could well find himself embroiled in another grueling contest with Fabio Fognini, who closed the day’s play with 1-6 6-3 6-2 win over the ninth seeded Borna Coric in just under two hours.
Fognini is becoming a master of recovery. In the opening round he as close to defeat before turning the match against Andrey Rublev around.
This time the Italian, seeded 13, looked to be down and out after winning just one game in the opening set but he again pulled his game together adopting avmore aggressive approach to run out a comfortable winner over the next two sets.
Both players made more errors than winners with the Italian edging his opponent 21-31.
Fognini had beaten Nadal on three occasions in 14 meetings so he should provide the Spaniard with food for thought – providing the Italian arrives with the right mind-set, something he is prone to leaving courtside on many occasions.
“I did not believe that I could reach the semi-final after being on the verge of defeat against Rublev in the first round. I hope to receive a strong support from the crowd. I feel that it’s my home tournament. I am happy for my family, who came this week to support me. I have nothing to lose against Rafa. Everywhere it’s difficult against him. I will just try to enjoy the match, try to recover as best as I can, eat well, sleep well, play with my son Federico a little bit before sleep and tomorrow is another day. I will try to do my best game. I know that it’s difficult, but I have the game to play against him. I saw that he did not play very well, but tomorrow is another day,” Fognini said.
The Monte Carlo Masters is heating up!