Monte Carlo Masters: Zverev, Tsitsipas, Medvedev make it seven young guns into last 16
And Rafael Nadal opens his campaign with a crushing win over compatriot Bautista Agut
· Seven 23-and-under players have reached the last 16, including seeded Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Daniil Medvedev and Borna Coric
· They are joined by 23-year-old Briton Cameron Norrie and 21-year-old American Taylor Fritz
· Rafael Nadal opened his campaign for title No12 with crushing win over compatriot Bautista Agut, 6-1, 6-1
The main draw in Monte-Carlo this week began with 15 players aged 23 and under and 15 men age 30 and over.
The three champions were all in the latter category, 11-time winner Rafael Nadal, two-time winner Novak Djokovic and one-off titlist Stan Wawrinka.
By the time the second round of play was completed on Wednesday in the Principality, two of them were left standing, the two most prolific active clay-court winners on the men’s tour, Nadal and Djokovic, both at the expense of fellow 30-somethings.
Indeed this year’s Doha champion, Roberto Bautista Agut, who had twice beaten Djokovic on hard courts this season, could muster barely a game against the king of clay, Nadal: a 6-1, 6-1, in an hour and a quarter trouncing.
And only one more over-30 made it into the last-16, and that via a walk-over to fellow over-30 Gilles Simon: Fabio Fognini.
But turn the attention to the younger group, and the pictures remained far more rosy. Seven men age 23 and under would have the chance to compete for a quarter-final place.
No9 seed Borna Coric and the qualifier Lorenzo Sonego had made their way through on the previous day, though the 22-year-old Coric had been forced to battle long and hard into the evening to get the better of Jaume Munar in a three-and-a-half-hour marathon, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.
Come a crystal clear Mediterranean morning, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, whose big breakthrough into the upper reaches of the ranks began with his final run to the Barcelona final less than a year ago. He went on the reach the semis in Estoril, and then went from strength to strength with the arrival of grass and hard courts.
From around 70 in the ranks back then, therefore, he came into the draw as the No6 seed rather than via qualifying as he had last year, and he got the better of a tough campaigner in Mikhail Kukushkin, 6-3, 7-5—the Greek’s 18th win this season.
Tsitsipas next plays No10 seed, Daniil Medvedev, who has won even more matches this season. The 23-year-old Russian’s win over Delray Beach champion Radu Albot, 6-1, 6-2, was his 19th of 2019, and means the tall Medvedev has dropped only five games in his first two matches in Monte-Carlo.
The 6ft 6ins Russian has won all four of his titles in the last 16 months, all on hard courts. Indeed, until this week, he had won only two main-tour matches on clay. His run in Monte-Carlo has doubled that tally.
This will be his fourth match against Tsitsipas, and he won all three previous encounters, all of them last year and on hard courts. But a lot of water has gone under the Greek’s bridge since then.
One of the most intriguing contests between younger generation stars was a first meeting between No3 seed Alexander Zverev and the fast-rising teenage Canadian, Felix Auger-Aliassime.
It is worth remembering that the willowy 6ft 6ins figure of Zverev is still only 21 himself, yet already has three Masters titles to his name—two of them on clay, one in Rome, the other in Madrid. He was also runner-up in Rome last year, has twice won on Munich’s clay, and made the semis in Monte-Carlo in 2018.
However, the 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime arrived in Monaco from his first runner-up finish in Rio, and he went on to reach the semis in the big, prestigious Miami Masters. He beat Tsitsipas in Indian Wells, and John Isner in Miami, and counted in his resume a 5-1 record against top-20 opponents. It all amounted to the Canadian becoming the first player born in the 2000s to break into the top 50, and his all-round attacking game and mature outlook on and off court had certainly caught the public eye.
But the experience and expertise of Zverev on clay is a tough proposition, and the Canadian looked out of his depth in the early stages.
In the first game, the German drew Auger-Aliassime to the net, chased down the volley, and swept a backhand cross-court winner to break: A clenched fist showed how key Zverev regarded this quick breakthrough.
The Canadian responded with a couple of deuces in the second game, but Zverev maintained his advantage, 2-0.
Auger-Aliassime got on the board in the third game, but he was struggling to match Zverev’s confident clay movement and shot-making. The Canadian was broken to love, 4-1, and after an easy hold, the German broke again to love after precisely half an hour.
The set was done, 6-1, then, and Auger-Aliassime had managed just three winners compared with 14 errors. However, his serving also let him down, just half of his first deliveries hitting the box, and only half of those winning the point.
The Canadian got off to a better start in the second set, holding his first game and then breaking with some lovely variety on his backhand before forcing Zverev wide with an off-forehand to draw the error, 2-1.
However, Auger-Aliassime’s lead was cut back in the sixth game after he mistimed a net charge, and then double faulted on break point, 3-3.
His serve was still giving cause for concern, under 50 percent, but with his attacking mind-set, he was able to apply pressure to the Zverev serve, and made the break again, only to face two break-back points.
A wild forehand gave up the lead once more, and he could not afford another break after Zverev held to regain the lead, 5-4. Unfortunately, now with 33 errors on the board, that is just what happened. Zverev broke for the match, 6-4, after 78 minutes.
Zverev will next play the rested Fognini, a man a full 10 years his senior, for the third time—and the young German has won on both previous occasions, including the Rome Masters in 2017.
· Grigor Dimitrov beat Jan-Lennard Struff, 7-6, 6-4, to set a meeting with Nadal.
· Pierre-Hugues Herbert beat No5 seed Kei Nishikori, 7-5, 6-4, and next plays Coric.
· Taylor Fritz beat Diego Schwartzman, 6-4, 6-2, and now plays Djokovic.
· No4 seed Dominic Thiem beat Martin Klizan, 6-1, 6-4, and will next play either No16 seed David Goffin or Dusan Lajovic.