It might as well have been a complete rout, with the expected exception of Rafael Nadal. Andy Murray suffered a customary early round loss at the onset of another season on clay, but it was the manner of his defeat rather than the loss itself that should leave his camp worried. The Scot was brushed aside like a journeyman by Stanislas Wawrinka, who broke serve five times to clinch an easy 6-1, 6-2 passage into the quarters of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters. Italian Fabio Fognini reached the last eight of an ATP Masters Series 1000 event for the first time in his career with a surprisingly tame 6-4, 6-2 defeat of Tomas Berdych. Juan Martin Del Potro joined the upset wagon when he fell in three sets to Jarkko Nieminen.
Novak Djokovic threatened to become the third seed to depart on the day, but recovered from a sloppy first set performance to find an extra gear and race away to a second straight three-set victory to keep his hopes alive. Nadal, though was completely unperturbed as he cruised to a 44th consecutive victory at Monaco with a 6-2, 6-4 thumping of Philipp Kohlschreiber to reach the quarters.
Djokovic got off to a miserable start, surrendering a break in the very first game. The Serbian might still be nursing a tender ankle, but his heart is made of alloy steel. The world No. 1 restored parity when he broke in the eighth game, but then the Serbian made a couple of errors off either flank to restore the break to Monaco. The Argentine took up the invitation this time to wrap up the first set.
But the sight of an exit door seems to help Djokovic turn on a switch. The Serbian found an additional gear just when needed to reverse the trend and draw away to a comfortable 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in his second consecutive three-set match. At 5-1 in the third set, Djokovic suffered a strange break to love, but broke back immediately to clinch victory.
In an unseemly match where the Serbian made 45 unforced errors and won only 38% of his second serve, Djokovic might at least seek consolation from the fact that he could muster a win despite those dispiriting numbers.
Easily the match of the day – the contest between Juan Martin Del Potro and Jarkko Nieminen turned into a slugfest with neither man willing to cede an inch. In the end though, it was the more fancied Del Potro who was forced to drive away empty-handed after a 4-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4) defeat at the hands of the Finnish player. Nieminen had two points for a 5-2 lead in the decider, but somehow contrived to allow the Argentine back into the match.
Del Potro grabbed at the opportunity to push the set into a breaker after six breaks in the third set swung the match one way and then the other. Delpo surrendered both his service points to fall back to 0-3, but recovered immediately to take back the mini-breaks. Eventually, the Argentine’s serve failed him yet again, as the Finn won three points in a row from 4-4 to claim his conquest.
In probably his worst match in recent memory, Murray could barely string together a 45% return on his service points, winning merely 21 off 47 points to pave the path for Wawrinka to roll over him. Murray is seeking to make a dent on clay, and carrying Ivan Lendl along to Monaco was an indication of his desire to get better on his least favourite surface.
The Scot held easily before rushing Wawrinka with a wily drop shot as he went on to earn two break points in the next game. The Swiss managed to stave off an early setback, before taking the game to his opponent. Distracted by his inability to convert those opportunities, Murray opened a window and Wawrinka jumped in to take the break in the third game. It was all one-way traffic from there, as Wawrinka won game after game to wrap up the first set.
If Murray harboured any hopes of mounting an assault in the second set, he was in for some disappointment. Wawrinka took less than a minute to hold to love in the first game of the second set to make a stern statement of intent. The struggling Murray managed to stave off break point in the fourth game, but succumbed to the depth of the Wawrinka backhand to surrender a decisive break in the sixth game. Murray failed to win a game after that, as he fell to only his fifth loss in thirteen meetings when he sailed an easy backhand volley beyond the baseline.
Wawrinka had 23 winners to just seven from Murray, and the Swiss saved both break points he faced on his serve. The Scot was left to ponder over his 24 unforced errors and the enormous amount of work left to do in order to make an impact on clay. In a Swiss double whammy, Murray will also swap his spot on the rankings with Roger Federer when the Emirates ATP Rankings are released on Monday.
Fognini retraced his steps from 2009 to put on a commanding performance against Berdych, a semi-finalist last year. The Italian had beaten the Czech in the first round of the event in 2009. Fognini played with intent and purpose to break his opponent’s serve four times to earn only the second top 10 scalp of his career. Fognini had beaten Fernando Verdasco in 2010 to gain his first top 10 victim.
Nadal marched on relentlessly to notch up his 44th consecutive victory at Monaco with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-4 thumping of Kohlschreiber, as he continued to plunder everything in his path. The indomitable Spaniard is on a hot streak, having won his three previous events after a fabulous comeback from a seven-month injury layoff. Nadal did not even face a single break point, even as he broke serve three times for a comprehensive victory in an hour and 21 minutes.
Rafa has an interesting encounter against the talented Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the semis. “The match started with a lot of intensity for both of us and I was able to have the break. After that, I was comfortable with my serve,” said Nadal. “The second set, I think the intensity went down a little but I was in control,” asserted the Majorcan. The Bulgarian needed a little more than an hour to oust Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-4 and earn his second date with the finest player on clay.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet both rode straight-set victories to make silent progress into the quarters, to the delighted squeals from the adoring French fans. Tsonga needed less than an hour for his 6-3, 6-0 victory over Jurgen Melzer. The contest between Gasquet and Marin Cilic turned into a chaotic affair, with eight breaks of serve split 5 and 3 in favour of the Frenchman.
The quarters on Friday, will feature the following action:
(1) Novak Djokovic vs Jarkko Nieminen (14)
(2) Richard Gasquet vs Fabio Fognini
(6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Stanislas Wawrinka (13)
(3) Rafael Nadal vs Florian Mayer