5 Monte-Carlo storylines to watch

There is mystery in the air as the clay-court season kicks off. Next week in Monte-Carlo some of those mysteries will start to slowly unravel on the red clay.

Novak Djokovic at the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters Novak Djokovic at the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters Image Credit: Imago / Panoramic

The first clay-court Masters 1000 event is here, and so is the wave of intrigue that will carry us through the spring and all the way through Roland-Garros. Even without Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz in the draw at Monte-Carlo next week, there is still a lot to get excited about.

Here are our top 5 storylines…

All eyes on world No 1 Djokovic

Djokovic hasn’t been in action since Dubai, when he lost to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals to fall to 15-1 overall on the season, but he will begin a full clay-court season in Monte-Carlo in much better shape emotionally than he was in last season.

Certainly Djokovic would have rather played the Sunshine Double (he missed it due to U.S. regulations, which still do not allow unvaccinated travelers to enter the country), but he is far removed from the saga of the Australian Open and eventual deportation that occurred in 2022. That was a period of tumult that sucked the energy from Djokovic and affected him for much of last season.

But it’s behind him now. For the rest of the season Djokovic should be able to play wherever he wants and therefore the good vibes start now.

The 35-year-old will set about the business of reversing his fortunes in Monte-Carlo, where he is a two-time champion but currently carries a two-match losing streak. Strangely, the world No 1 has not been beyond the quarter-finals at Monte-Carlo since he won his second title in the Principality in 2015.

What better way to set the tone for his clay season than by making a great result.

Tsitsipas’ shoulder

Ah, clay season. It is Stefanos Tsitsipas’ best time of the year, but one question persists: will the Greek’s injured right shoulder heal enough to let him reach his full potential on his favorite surface? Last month, the defending two-time Monte-Carlo champion played Indian Wells and Miami in body, but not really in spirit, as he was nursing the shoulder and playing far from his potential.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Monte-Carlo, 2021
Antoine Couvercelle / Panoramic

Would he have been better off simply resting? Is he ready to hit the ground running on the clay? These are the questions that will soon be answered.

We know Tsitsipas has the game to be a serious player on the road to Roland-Garros, but until the injury cloud dissipates, it is hard to know what the short-term future has in store for him.

Medvedev on the clay – will it be different this year?

He enters Monte-Carlo with 24 wins in his last 25 matches – including five consecutive finals and four titles. By any standard it has been an amazing run for Daniil Medvedev and he is showing no signs of cooling down. Ah, but the slow-playing red clay might have something to say about that.

Medvedev may be one of the game’s greatest hard court players, with 18 titles and 245 career wins on the surface. But it’s been rough for Medvedev to translate those numbers onto the clay where he owns a miserable 18-23 lifetime record.

There lies the challenge for Medvedev. To take his hot form and keep it going, even on a surface that does not suit him.

Will Sinner be a winner on clay?

With a semi-final at Indian Wells and a final at Miami, Jannik Sinner sent a message to the rest of the tour that he is ready to start putting up the type of consistent results that we expect from a top 10 player. He starts the clay season at a career-high ranking of No 9 in the world, and he’s defending quarter-finals at Monte-Carlo and Rome, and round of 16 performances at Madrid and Roland-Garros.

Jannik Sinner, Miami 2023
Jannik Sinner, Miami 2023 | © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It won’t be easy for him to get the ranking higher by the end of Roland-Garros but it’s certainly possible – the Italian is a threat on all surfaces and he should be a big factor on the clay, just like he has been on hard courts in 2023.

Will clay mark a fresh start for Ruud, Thiem, Berrettini?

Several players are searching for lost form this month, and clay could be the remedy for someone like Casper Ruud, who reached his first semi-final of the season on Friday in Estoril. Ruud entered last week with a 5-6 record on the season – he’s badly in need of wins and his beloved clay provides a perfect opportunity for him to get back to basics.

Same could be said for Dominic Thiem, who finally won two matches in a row this week, after starting his season with a 1-8 record. If he is going to rack up some much-needed wins, clay is the surface he will do it on.

Italy’s Matteo Berrettini could also benefit from a change in scenery. He’s had a difficult start to 2023, going 5-6 and losing in the first round in three of his last four tour-level events. Clay isn’t his best surface but many folks don’t realise that Berrettini actually has a much better career winning percentage on clay (69.2) than he does on hard courts (56.3).

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