Spain is the most successful nation at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters for in the past 53 years, one of their nationasl has appeared in the final on 22 occasions and this year, another player Alejandro Davidovich Fokina joins the likes of Rafa Nadal, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Carlos Moya and earlier Manuel Orantes, Sergi Bruguera and others.
Alejandro is on a good run, in a good rhythm. I've played him before, he's a good opponent, I've had big battles against him and I'm going to try and be as ready as possible. I know he's improved from before and I'm going to have that in the back of my head, to produce the best tennis that I can. Stefanos Tsitsipas
But to join the 16 who went on to lift the trophy, the in-form and unseeded Davidovich Fokina will have to finally down the defending champion, the equally in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas from Greece who is now favourite to pick up back-to-back titles and become only the sixth player to achieve that distinction in the Open Era.
To reach this year’s title round Tsitsipas, the world No.5 and third seed, brushed aside the Olympic champion, Alexander Zverev, the second seed ranked three for his seventh victory in 10 meetings over the German.
The match was expected to be a tight affair considering their ranking positions — and in Zverev’s favour — but despite coming through a gruelling quarter-final which didn’t finish until 11pm the previous night, Tsitsipas romped into the final after just 77-minutes, 6-4 6-2.
“It was hard to resume today after a difficult match last night,” the 23-year-old Tsitsipas said later.
“I had to put my soul out there and I demanded from myself to make it physical, as surprising as this may sound after a very physical battle last night.
“I knew that my body may not respond the same way that I wanted it to, but I had certain demands and I stuck to those demands and made them happen, as surreal as it may sound.
“I wanted to stay on the court as much as I had to and try to start rallies and make it physical. Obviously it worked in my favour.
“I don’t know whether the long match gave me some rhythm, but I was able to play good tennis today.
“I’m happy with the level I was able to execute and come up with some good ideas on the court.”
Throughout the match he appeared to be the much fresher of the two, bearing in mind both players had played debilitating three-set quarter-finals only 24-hour earlier, Zverev’s lasting three-hours and 7-minutes.
While the two players expected to be meeting for a place in the final was fulfilled in the bottom half of the draw, the same couldn’t be said for the top half with two unseeded players contesting their alloted place in the final.
There a seemingly revitalised Grigor Dimitrov, a former world No.3, couldn’t take out the last surviving Spaniard in the draw in what proved to be the bet match of the two semi-finals.
For Davidovich Fokina, world ranked 46, this will be his first career ATP final following his 6-4 6-7(2) 6-3 win over the 30-year-old Bulgarian currently ranked 25 as he attempts to become the third Spaniard to make a Masters final this year after Rafael Nadal at Indian Wells and Carlos Alcaraz’s big title win in Miami.
Overall victory for him would mean he would become the lowest ranked champion in Monte Carlo since Rhodesian’s, now Zimbabwe, Andrew Pattison, then world ranked 49, back in 1974 while also matching Nadal’s effort in winning Monte Carlo at his second attempt.
“It was a difficult match. I had my chances in the second set, but Grigor played well and I was tired,” said the 22-year-old Spaniard, who knocked out No.1 Novak Djokovic in the second round.
It was a bit of a roller-coaster afternoon for the dogged Davidovich Fokina who was a set and then 4-2 up and 5-3 ahead in the second only for his game to falter winning just three of the next 12 points as Dimitrov crawled back into the match.
The Spaniard then trailed 2-0 in the decider before he regained control of his game and the match, racking up five consecutive games for 5-2 and delivering an ace, his third of the match, to clinch the win on his second match point.
After the second set tie-break, Davidoch Fokina took a comfort break where he gave himself a good talking to, he revealed during his post-match interview of court.
“I am so, so happy to be in the final. It is a dream come true,” Davidovich Fokina said.
“When I was a kid I was dreaming about this day. It is a dream and I am so happy. The second set I had my chances, but I didn’t play very well. I was so tight and he just put the ball in. The tie-break was also tight. But I went to the bathroom and said that I want this win.”
Davidovich Fokina arrived for the clay court swing with just four victories under his belt from 9 events this season, but like Tsitsipas, he loves playing in Monte Carlo.
“Since preseason in December, we worked very hard to have moment like this,” the blonde Spaniard said. “From the beginning of this season I had a lot of matches that I could have won but I lost them.
“I just continued to keep believing to keep pushing. Doesn’t matter about the results. I am just enjoying every moment and playing every ball.”
And his results this week have been impressive with Djokovic and the Indian Wells champion Taylor Fritz falling to his aggressive play and is clearly determined, with his new found confidence, to become the latest Spanish champion in Monte Carlo.
However, Tsitsipas, the 2021 French Open runner-up, will be favourite having already defeated him twice before, the first time last year in Monte Carlo last year when he had to retire injured from their quarter-final clash and the second, in Rotterdam earlier this season.
And Tsitsipas acknowledges that the final will not be a roll-over.
“It’s going to take a little bit more,” the current champion said.
“He’s on a good run, in a good rhythm. I’ve played him before, he’s a good opponent, I’ve had big battles against him and I’m going to try and be as ready as possible.
“I know he’s improved from before and I’m going to have that in the back of my head, to produce the best tennis that I can.”