Monte-Carlo Masters 2021: Rain drowns schedule, but not before Karatsev beats teenage star Musetti

Russian Karatsev and Italian Musetti are two biggest risers in ranks since tour resumption last August

Aslan Karatsev
Aslan Karatsev (Photo: Dubai Duty Free Championships)

As the first Masters of a packed clay season got underway in Monte-Carlo, two nations were bursting at the seams with talent, and many of them were to the fore as the high-quality main draw began.

For Italy—and the border between Italy and France is just a few kilometers down the road from the Monte-Carlo Country Club—there was a tournament-high nine players in contention. Alongside defending champion Fabio Fognini, Italy boasts four top-30 players and 10 in the top 100, and the good news is that they span a great age range, with two of them still teenagers.

For Russia, there were four in main draw, and all of them ranked in the top 30, and notably, all are aged 27 and under. No2 seed Daniil Medvedev, owner of three Masters titles among his 10 trophies, and No6 seed Andrey Rublev, winner of four ATP500s among his eight titles, are among the highest achievers of the last six months.

The first match on the main show court featured a man from each of these nations, who also happened to be the two men who had made the biggest jumps in the top 100 to career highs since the resumption of the tour last August.

Italian teenage wild card Lorenzo Musetti was up 196 places to No84, while his opponent, No29 Aslan Karatsev, had jumped 165 places via a breakthrough 2021 that took him to the semis of the Australian open and then to his first title in Dubai.

Both making their debuts in Monte-Carlo, this first-round meeting presented a real contrast in styles, too. Both 6ft 1in tall, Musetti is a slender, creative single-hander, while Karatsev, carrying seven kilos more, is a muscular, powerful two-hander with pace and strength from the back of the court. And while the Russian had more than proven his worth on hard courts, he would now use the same speed and power to penetrate the difficult, heaving conditions in Monaco.

Musetti was broken right at the start of a damp morning in this usually sunny spot on the Mediterranean by the muscular tennis of Karatsev. But he worked three break-back chances in the sixth game—only to see the Russian’s formidable first serve shoot through the heavy court. That big Karatsev game was getting much more leverage in these conditions, even though Musetti deployed plenty of backhand slice to try and counter the power.

But power came out the winner after a nine-minute hold, 4-2, before soon after, rain was the winner, halting play across all the Club’s terraces for almost four hours.

And when they returned, Musetti had to serve to stay in the set, only to double fault on break point. Karatsev took the opening set, 6-3, and backed it up with a love hold to open the second set.

The Russian showed he is more than just a huge serve and forehand: a perfect drop shot, then a deft net pick-up took him to three break points in the second game. Musetti saved all three, and they edged on level terms deep into the set. However, Karatsev went for his returns to engineer three more break chances, this time for the set, and a searing cross-court backhand winner did the job, 6-4.

Karatsev, who was the only Russian on the Monday schedule, will next play No4 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. There were, though, scheduled to be several more Italians.

The third on this same show court was to be Fognini, as the defending 33-year-old champion took on a 21-year-old from Serbia, Miomir Kecmanovic. However, rain halted play again part way into another intriguing match between 20-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was the next in line to earn a seeding this week, and No16 seed Cristian Garin, fresh from winning his home title in Santiago.

What drew the attention in that match was that Auger-Aliassime was appearing for the first time with his new coach, Rafael Nadal’s famous uncle Toni. Fortunately, the Canadian and the 11-time champion were drawn into opposite halves: Not that Nadal saw anything but positives in the arrangement.

“First of all, he doesn’t have to ask me anything. He’s my uncle. I am very grateful for all the things that he did for me… At the same time I am happy for Felix. I mean, is going to be a good support, have a great coach like Toni next to him. Happy for me, too. I am happy to see my uncle here, spend time with him here on the tour again.”

Nadal senior coached his nephew from childhood through to 2017, by which time the famous Spaniard had 16 Majors and had reclaimed the No1 ranking. Now, he works at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Majorca, where Auger-Aliassime has recently spent training blocks.

Before this match could conclude, though, rain put a dampener on the entire day: Play was called off in the early evening, with just four matches completed.

The 21-year-old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina beat 22-year-old Alex de Minaur, 6-4, 7-6(3) and will next play the top-ranked Italian, No8 seed Matteo Berrettini.

John Millman beat another of the many young players in the draw, 21-year-old Ugo Humbert, 6-3, 6-3, and will play the winner between Auger-Aliassime and Garin.

Tommy Paul advanced after Pedro Martinez, who made the draw as a lucky loser when Gael Monfils withdrew, retired at 1-4 down. Paul will play either No9 seed Roberto Bautista Agut or Taylor Fritz.

Fognini will open play on Court Rainier III on Tuesday, while compatriot Berrettini will close proceedings. Teenage Italian star Jannik Sinner will play the first match on Court des Princes against Albert Ramos-Vinolas, a match that boasts a 14-year age gap.

Meanwhile, Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano will have a mountain to climb against Miami champion Hubert Hurkacz when they resume on Court 2, with the Pole a set to the good

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