Fall of favorites in Monte Carlo, daily newspaper Junge Welt, April 15, 2024


Sent a signal, but which one? Novak Đoković (Monaco, April 13, 2024)

April makes everything new: With the prestigious ATP Masters 1000 in Monte Carlo, the men’s tennis season started last week and is heading towards two highlights this year: the obligatory French Open from the end of May in Paris and two months later The tennis tournament for the 2024 Summer Olympics was in question. This meant that Monte Carlo had the character of a preparatory tournament for all clay court players even more than usual. For many tennis stars it is a home game, as they have preferred to live in the tax haven of Monaco since Björn Borg’s time.

The starting position was also exciting because the 14-time French Open winner and king of clay, Rafael Nadal, was missing – his injury break has lasted far too long. But a missing king can liven things up. In addition, the 36-year-old Novak Đoković, who is determined to win his first Olympic gold in tennis in the summer, had to put an exclamation mark in the principality after recently throwing out his long-term coach Goran Ivanišević after the botched tournament in Indian Wells…

Otherwise, the tennis world before Monte Carlo was puzzled about nothing more than the declining form of the young Dane Holger Rune, who had been in the final of the tournament in 2023, for months. Then there was the cancellation of the Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who, among other things, had thrown Jannik Sinner, who was actually playing perfectly, out of the tournament in Indian Wells and was almost only stopped against Alexander Zverev by the strange attack of a colony of bees on the pitch. He had to withdraw at short notice due to an arm injury.

The first two rounds were hardly surprising: the fact that Jan-Lennard Struff threw out Sebastián Báez, who was slightly better ranked in the world rankings, after a hard-fought three sets was not surprising given his strong last few months; he also mastered the next stop, Borna Ćorić, with confidence. The hard court specialist Daniil Medvedev, who lives in Monte Carlo, overpowered the oldie and crowd favorite Gaël Monfils, while defending champion Andrei Rublyov failed due to Alexei Popyrin’s straightforward game or his own diva-like nature. No, it’s not a sensation.

Meanwhile, Holger Rune didn’t give in and found good solutions against another oldie in top form, 32-year-old Grigor Dimitrow. He was followed by the tournament favorites Đoković and Sinner into the quarterfinals. But not the intimate enemies Zverev and Medvedev: Alexander Zverev equalized 0:5 against the Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second set before losing in the tiebreak, a real crime thriller. Medvedev also lost his nerve, especially after he gave up the set win against his Russian compatriot Karen Khachanov at 5:4 in the second set and then tried to see his opponent’s ball go out of bounds, whereupon a heated argument developed with the referee. After losing the game, Medvedev’s racket crashed into the net like a missile. Pure frustration. But his lurking game doesn’t really suit the slippery sand either.

Jannik Sinner, on his way to becoming number two in the world, had a wild exchange of blows with the resurgent Holger Rune in the quarterfinals and only progressed thanks to several mistakes by his opponent. Yes, the magic of the clay court is its special mix of slowness and speed. Stefanos Tsitsipas mastered this tennis voodoo best in Monte Carlo after Zverev’s mistake, he first threw Khachanow out. Also making it to the semi-finals was a tactically complete Novak Đoković, who allowed Alex de Minaur into the game, but was often annoying enough with many attacks at the net and ultimately won. And then there was Casper Ruud, a noble product from Rafael Nadal’s tennis academy in Mallorca, who grew up there with sand between his teeth, so to speak, which once again no one could account for. He eliminated Alejandro Tabilo, Hubert Hurkacz and Ugo Humbert. The semi-finals were there. And brought the surprising double fall of favorites: Ruud overcame Đoković (6:4, 1:6, 6:4) and Tsitsipas in turn overcame Sinner (6:4, 3:6, 6:4). Both were not necessarily superior, but rather benefited from the fact that the two best players in the world acted a bit erratically in this decisive round. The final on Sunday (after the editorial deadline, jW) should therefore be contested by a Norwegian and a Greek, whose residences are Oslo and Monte Carlo.


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