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Monte Carlo Masters 2019: Which players stand a chance to dethrone Rafael Nadal?

ANALYST
Feature
214   //    Timeless

Whenever it comes to any clay tournament at any place around the globe, it is very tough to think of any player other than Rafael Nadal as the winner. Irrespective of his injuries or past performances, he always plays exceptionally well on red dirt, setting a benchmark for the others to follow on the surface.

Even at the Monte-Carlo Masters which commenced today, everybody has already predicted Nadal to be the winner. But there are fitness concerns for the Spaniard as he himself admitted that he isn't fully confident with his movement yet.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal

Apart from Nadal, only Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have won this title before, and they would again be the toughest challengers to the Spaniard. But does any player stand a chance to win the tournament for the first time?

Here's a look at the candidates:

1. Dominic Thiem

Seeded No. 4 in Monte Carlo, Thiem is widely regarded as the successor to Nadal on clay. He reached the finals of Roland Garros last year where he lost ultimately to Nadal. He was also a semifinalist at that tournament two years consecutively before that - in 2016 and 2017.

Dominic Thiem after winning the Rio Open in 2017
Dominic Thiem after winning the Rio Open in 2017

Thiem has also been a runner-up at the Madrid Open on two occasions (2017 and 2018) where he lost to Nadal and Alexander Zverev respectively in the finals.

The Austrian has an impressive one-handed backhand with which he can hit winners even against Nadal's topspin forehand; he has defeated the Spaniard thrice on clay.

Thiem's projected route to the title:

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1st round: Bye

2nd round: Martin Klizan

3rd round: David Goffin

Quarter-final: Karen Khachanov

Semi-final: Novak Djokovic

Final: Rafael Nadal

Even though Thiem is looking good after his recent win in Indian Wells, this seems to be a pretty tough draw to navigate. Klizan, Goffin and Khachanov can all give him plenty of trouble before the semis.

Even if he does get to the last four, getting a win over Nadal or Djokovic would be an uphill task for him. Thiem has to hope that at least one of the aforementioned players is eliminated in the initial stages of the tournament.

2. Karen Khachanov

Karen Khachanov has already won an ATP Masters 1000 title, in Paris last year where he defeated Djokovic in the final. Even before that, he came close to beating Nadal before going down in four tight sets in the US Open third round.

Karen Khachanov winning the Paris Masters in 2018 after beating Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-4
Karen Khachanov winning the Paris Masters in 2018 after beating Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-4

Both those matches proved that Khachanov has the talent to compete against the world's best. The Russian's biggest strenght is the power with which he hits the ball; he is considered to be one of the strong hitters in the world right now.

Khachanov's expected route to glory:

1st round: Bye

2nd round: Andreas Seppi

3rd round: Nikoloz Basilashvili

Quarter-final: Dominic Thiem

Semi-final: Novak Djokovic

Final: Rafael Nadal

Thiem might present a strong challenge to Khachanov with his firepower and movement. If this match does happen, it will be a battle of endurance vs power as Thiem can work get a lot of balls back from the baseline.

3. Felix Auger-Aliassime

Felix Auger-Aliassime might sound like a surprise addition in this list, but the Canadian seems ready to join the big leagues.

Auger-Aliassime reached the semifinal of the Miami Open last month where he was a break up in both the sets against John Isner. But he choked away the lead each time, coughing up numerous double faults and unforced errors, before losing the match in two tiebreakers.

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Felix Auger-Aliassime

That match would have taught the teenager a thing or two about playing on the big stage. Earlier this year he also reached the final of the Rio Open, a claycourt tournament.

Auger-Aliassime is ranked 33rd in the world at the moment and got a wild card to play in the Monte-Carlo Masters, where he will face a qualifier in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime's predicted path to the summit:

1st round: Qualifier

2nd round: Alexander Zverev

3rd round: Fabio Fognini

Quarter-final: Kei Nishikori

Semi-final: Rafael Nadal

Final: Novak Djokovic

Zverev will be the favorite in the second round match, but looking at their present form, Auger-Aliassime could well spring a surprise. He even defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second round of Indian Wells this year.

Low expectations and great form might propel Auger-Aliassime far in this tournament, and he can cause some serious upsets along the way.



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