The first clay Masters 1000 tournament of the season kicks off on Sunday in Monte Carlo with Rafael Nadal chasing history, Andy Murray the top seed there for the first time and some young guns looking to break through.
Here's everything you need to know about this week's edition of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters...
Rafael Nadal is knocking on the door of history once again this clay season. The Spanish world No5 can win a record-extending 10th title at three different tournaments – Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros.
Just like his beloved Real Madrid, can Nadal finally secure his own ‘La Decima’ at the end of this clay swing in Paris?
The 30-year-old is the No4 seed at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters this week and has been drawn in the same half as second-seeded Novak Djokovic, with a mouth-watering semi-final potentially in the cards.
Nadal has reigned supreme in the Principality from 2005-2012 and again in 2016, and is the only player to have won the same tournament nine times.
He opens his campaign against either Daniel Evans or Kyle Edmund, with No14 seed Alexander Zverev posing as the first big threat in his path, in round three. Eighth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov could await Nadal in the quarter-finals.
Nadal is second in the ATP Race to London standings behind Roger Federer, who will be out of action until the French Open end of May. They both lie second behind Jack Sock with 19 wins this season (Sock has 20) but Federer is 1,810 points ahead of Nadal at the top of the Race. The Mallorcan can catch up though with good runs in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome, where a total of 3,500 points are up for grabs.
Djokovic lost his opener in Monte Carlo last year to Jiri Vesely before he went on to win his first French Open and complete the career Grand Slam. The Serb owns a 12-3 win-loss record this season, with his only title coming in Doha in the first week of the year.
The Monte Carlo-resident is hopeful he can turn around his so far sub-par season with a good run in Monaco.
“I feel great,” the 29-year-old Djokovic told reporters on Sunday, as quoted by AFP. “It’s nice to be in a place where I spend a lot of time training. It’s home here. I spend a lot of time on these courts. It’s normal for an athlete to go through (injury) ups and downs. I trust myself and the effort I put into my game. I have to believe I’ll get the results I’m hoping for.
“All of my thoughts next week will be on this event, I won it in 2013 and 2015. I’m hoping this is the place to have a new start to the season.”
Andy Murray is the top seed in Monte Carlo for the first time and commences his assault on a maiden title there against either Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, or Tommy Robredo of Spain. In the third round, the Brit could get a rematch with Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who held seven match points against Murray in Dubai in February before surrendering.
Murray has not played since a fourth round exit in Indian Wells and missed Miami with an elbow injury.
2014 champion and No3 seed Stan Wawrinka is a possible semi-final opponent for Murray. The Swiss opens against either Mischa Zverev or Jiri Vesely (who beat Djokovic in Monte Carlo last year). New dad and No7 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga could square off with Wawrinka in the quarters.
Last year’s runner-up Gael Monfils has withdrawn from the tournament due to a left knee injury he picked up in Indian Wells.
Projected quarter-finals (by seed)
Andy Murray (GBR x1) v Marin Cilic (CRO x5)
Stan Wawrinka (SUI x3) v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA x7)
Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x8) v Rafael Nadal (ESP x4)
Novak Djokovic (SRB x2) v Dominic Thiem (AUT x6)
First rounds to watch
Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP x13) v Fabio Fognini (ITA)
Two proficient clay-courters meeting in the opening round. Carreno Busta has already reached one clay final this season, in Rio de Janeiro, while all of Fognini’s four titles won have come on the red dirt.
David Goffin (BEL x10) v Steve Darcis (BEL)
Just last week, the pair combined to help Belgium reach the Davis Cup semi-finals with victory over Italy. This will be their second tour-level meeting. Goffin won their first earlier this year in Sofia.
Daniel Evans (GBR) v Kyle Edmund (GBR)
The winner of this all-British clash earns a second round meeting with nine-time champion Rafael Nadal. It’s their first tour-level encounter but Edmund beat Evans in a Challenger in Dallas last season, on indoor hard courts.
Benoit Paire (FRA) v Tommy Haas (GER)
Tommy Haas’ farewell tour now takes him to Monte Carlo, where he faces Paire for a second time this season (the German retired in their Australian Open first round after going down two sets). If Haas completes the match, we can expect some deft touches from both sides.
Moroccan teenager and world No946 Amine Ahouda pulled off an incredible upset in just the second-ever ATP match of his career by defeating Spain’s No8 seed Marcel Granollers in the first round of the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old Ahouda, who is ranked 901 spots below Granollers, owns one sole match win on the Challenger tour and was playing just his second ATP tournament, having also received a wildcard in Marrakech last season.
The North African teen took out Granollers 6-4, 6-4 in one hour, 37 minutes, and next takes on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in the second round.
The Casablanca-native turned pro in 2013 and peaked at No82 in the world junior rankings in 2015.
Biggest upset of a Top 50 since No. 837 Opelka d. No. 28 Anderson in Atlanta last year. https://t.co/AXe8lJUZDN— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) April 11, 2017
He grew up shadowing his father, who was a tennis coach at ACSA Casablanca, and says clay is favourite surface.
Ahouda’s breakthrough victory came on the same day his compatriot world No667 Reda Al Amrani, another local wildcard, made it through to the second round when Federico Delbonis retired after dropping the first set 7-6 (3) and trailing 0-1 in the second.
Grigor Dimitrov is the top seed in Marrakech this week. He opens his campaign against Tommy Robredo on Thursday.