1. Tomas Berdych v Gael Monfils (Monte-Carlo, SF)
Either Tomas Berdych or Gael Monfils will compete in their first Monte-Carlo final after both were on court on Friday for less than an hour. Monfils defeated Roger Federer in the third round, 6-4 7-6(5) and backed that up with another convincing performance against Grigor Dimitrov, winning 6-1 6-3. If you take away a retirement win from Dimitrov, Monfils has a 100% record against the Bulgarian. It was the case of one step forward and two steps back for Dimitrov who had a good week with victories against Fernando Verdasco, Fabio Fognini and Stan Wawrinka.
Berdych remains the epitome of consistency and has won three matches at every tournament he has played in 2015 with two final appearances (Doha and Rotterdam) and three semi-final showings (Australian Open, Miami and Dubai). However, he still continues to falter towards the end of tournaments against high calibre players and is 1-6 against top ten players this year (not including his retirement win over Milos Raonic today). Berdych’s week in Monte-Carlo has been solid. In his third round match against Roberto Bautista Agut, he saved two set points in the first set tiebreak before coming through in a tight two setter.
Berdych has a great record against Monfils with five wins in their six previous encounters. The pair have played twice this year with Berdych winning in Rotterdam, 6-1 6-4 and benefiting from a retirement win in Miami. In their last match on clay, Monfils won a five set thriller at Roland Garros back in 2013. All the stats point to Berdych, but I like Monfils’s chances in this match. The Frenchman has been playing very well this week and he should have the crowd on his side. He has the ability more than most to take his game to another level and in such a big match, a semi-final at a Masters 1000, he has the potential to overwhelm Berdych.
Prediction: Monfils d. Berdych in 2 tight sets
2. Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal (Monte-Carlo, SF)
In a match-up that feels more fitting of a final, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will resume their rivalry with a first match-up since last year’s French Open final. The pair have experienced vastly different routes to the semi-finals; Djokovic has dropped just 12 games in 3 matches and on Friday, routed the US Open Champion Marin Cilic, 6-0 6-3. Although Nadal had an excellent opener against Lucas Pouille, his last two matches have been testing. The Spaniard has been pushed to three sets by John Isner (7-6 4-6 6-3) and David Ferrer (6-4 5-7 6-2). Both matches went over the two hour 20 minute mark and saw Nadal unable to capitalise on advantages in the second set to seal the matches in straight sets. It certainly adds up with comments Nadal made in Miami that was he was nervous on court and struggling with confidence.
In the last of the quarter-finals and the shining light for the organisers and the fans after three duds, Nadal served for the match at 6-4 *5-4. Ferrer fought back, breaking Nadal’s serve, mainly due to his superior, aggressive play. Still, it came as a surprise to see Nadal not convert on what is bread and butter for him. Ferrer didn’t help himself out at all, going down an early break in all three sets. He gave away his serve at the beginning on the third set with some very sloppy play. He produced some stirring tennis to earn break back points down 3-2 in the third set. However, Nadal held on to lead 4-2 and then didn’t look back as he won the final two games to move into the last four.
As mentioned, their last match was at the French Open where Nadal prevailed in four sets. Away from the clay of Roland Garros, Djokovic has won their last two clay court encounters in Rome (4-6 6-3 6-2, 2014) and Monte-Carlo (6-2 7-6, 2013). Based on results this week, Djokovic will win this comfortably. However, tennis doesn’t always work like that and the fact that Nadal has been pushed will most likely have helped to build confidence and improve his level. Djokovic has been pretty sensational this year, winning the three big titles up for grabs. His greatest attribute has been mentally where he has managed to win matches where he has wobbled (in some cases, rather significantly). I will miss the match tomorrow and i’ll be avoiding Twitter all day and catching up in the evening! It’s Djokovic all the way for me, but i’d still fancy Nadal to get a set. This promises to be fascinating…
Prediction: Djokovic d. Nadal in 3 sets