The Monte Carlo Masters betting market was turned on its head on Wednesday when World number one and defending champion Novak Djokovic crashed out of the tournament. Djokovic was beaten by the talented young Czech star Jiri Vesely 6-4 2-6 6-4, who is ranked 54 places below the Serb, and it was Dkokovic’s first defeat at this stage of a tournament for three years.
Third seed Roger Federer is now second favourite to win the tournament and will face eighth seed Tsonga in today’s quarter-finals and, if he’s victorious today, either 13th seed Monfils (who thrashed Djokovic’s conquerer Vesely 6-1 6-2 yesterday) or Lucky Loser Granollers-Pujol, who knocked out 13th seed Goffin in straight sets yesterday.
Tsonga is a step up in class from Federer’s last two opponents and the Frenchman has enjoyed success against him in recent seasons, including on clay. With plenty of local support for Tsonga I expect him to push Federer close today and I would not be surprised if he caused another upset this week and recorded his sixth win against the 17 time Grand Slam winner.
Gael Monfils has been in great form so far this week and this is his third straight quarter-final at Masters Series level, having reached the same stage at Indian Wells and Miami last month. Monfils faces Lucky Loser Granollers-Pujol today and, while the odds might suggest otherwise, this may not be plain sailing for the 13th seed.
Granollers-Pujol has already beaten teenage sensation Zverev and 11th seed Goffin this week and, more surprisingly, leads the head-to-head against Monfils 3-1, including winning their last three encounters between 2011 and 2015. His style of play clearly causes Monfils problems and, with that in mind, I suggest either backing Granollers-Pujol to win at over 3/1, or, for the more risk-averse, back him on the Handicap with a 4.5 game start.
World number five and eight time consecutive Monte Carlo Masters winner Rafeal Nadal still remains in the bottom half of the draw and will feel much more at home now he’s back on his beloved clay. However, he was made to work extremely hard by 12th seed Dominic Thiem yesterday, who he defeated 7-5 6-3, and he may face an even tougher task today against fourth seed and 2014 Monte Carlo champion Stan Wawrinka, who sent 15th seed Simon packing for the loss of only three games yesterday.
2015 French Open champion Wawrinka is of course well at home on the clay courts of Europe and he produced arguably his best performance of the season yesterday, which suggests his aim was to peak at this time of the year in preparation for the defence of his French Open crown. He’s won three of the last five encounters against Nadal, including at this stage of the Rome Masters last year, and with that in mind it’s worth opposing Nadal again on this occasion as he was far from convincing against Thiem yesterday.
World number 99 and Bosnian number one Damir Dzumhur, who defeated Nadal at the Miami Masters a fortnight ago, improved his reputation as a giant killer on Wednesday sending 2015 finalist and sixth seed Tomas Berdych crashing out of the tournament 6-4 6-7 6-3. Dzumhur came close to repeating that feat again yesterday against tenth seed Raonic, but just lost out by the narrowest of margins 6-3, 4-6, 7-6.
World number two and second seed Andy Murray continued to make hard work of winning matches yesterday, this time against 16th seed Benoit Paire. Murray was a set and a break down and Paire even served for the match at 5-4 however, Murray’s renowned resilience and stubborn nature came to the rescue again and he admirably fought back to win 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 to book a spot in today’s quarter-finals.
Murray will now face Milos Raonic for a spot in Saturday’s semi-finals and with their head-to-head record standing at 4-3 to Murray, and one all on clay, this looks set to be another fascinating and close encounter between the two. Murray’s recent form suggests Raonic has the upper hand on this occasion but, with Raonic also being pushed to third set tie breaks in his last two encounters against lower ranked opponents, this outcome is a really tough one to call.