Flashback: Nadal, Nishikori Make Moves In Monte-Carlo
The Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the season's first ATP Masters 1000 event on clay, is almost here. But before we usher in another European clay-court swing, ATPTour.com remembers five highlights from the 2018 edition.
1. Rafa Rafa'd. Again.
Stop us if you've read this before: Rafael Nadal won the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. By now, you've heard or read that line 11 times as last year the Spaniard became the first male to win an ATP Tour tournament 11 times.
Nadal also became the outright Masters 1000 titles leader with 31 (he now has 33), breaking his tie with Serbian Novak Djokovic (who now has 32). At the time, Nadal had won a career-best 36 consecutive sets on clay. His flawless run through the Monte-Carlo field marked the fifth time he had won the tournament without dropping a set (2008-10, 2012, 2018).
Watch: Rafa Wins 11th Monte-Carlo Title
It was a foreshadowing event for the Spaniard, who would continue making history during the clay season. Nadal also won his 11th titles at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Tsitsipas) and Roland Garros (d. Thiem). Another massive clay-court haul helped the Spaniard finish at No. 2 in the year-end ATP Rankings.
2. Nishikori Launches Return To Nitto ATP Finals
Kei Nishikori produced the most unexpected result of the season's first clay-court Masters 1000 event. The Japanese reached his fourth Masters 1000 final – and his second on clay – before falling to Nadal.
It was only his second time playing at the event, and two months earlier, Nishikori, still on the comeback from right-wrist surgery, was lifting the trophy at the RBC Tennis Championships of Dallas, an indoor ATP Challenger Tour event.
But Nishikori beat Tomas Berdych, Sydney International titlist Daniil Medvedev, second seed Marin Cilic and Germany's Alexander Zverev to reach his first final since February 2017 (Argentina Open, l. to Dolgopolov). He'd end his season by making his fourth trip to the Nitto ATP Finals, and his first big result came in Monte-Carlo.
Watch: Nishikori Reaches Monte-Carlo Final
3. The Bryan Brothers Returned To Top Form
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan were the doubles team to beat as the clay-court season began in earnest in the Principality. The Bryans won their second consecutive Masters 1000 title and their 38th overall by knocking off the reigning Australian Open champions Oliver Marach/Mate Pavic.
But their season would break down during the Mutua Madrid Open final, when the American twins had to retire for the first time in 1,407 matches as a team because of a right hip injury for Bob. The left-handed twin wouldn't take the court again until January 2019, but Mike continued their winning ways with Jack Sock, taking Wimbledon, the US Open and the Nitto ATP Finals.
And the Bryans are back in form again. While they will not compete in Monte-Carlo, the Americans just won their sixth Miami title.
Watch: Bryans Win Monte-Carlo Doubles Title
4. Djokovic Showed Signs Of Progress
This was progress for Novak Djokovic in April 2018: The two-time Monte-Carlo champion pushed Dominic Thiem to three sets before losing in the third round at his home Masters 1000 event.
It was certainly an improvement from where he left off at the Miami Open presented by Itau, losing his opener to Frenchman Benoit Paire. The Serbian, however, had laid the foundation for another record-breaking season.
In Miami, he played pain-free for the first time in nearly two and a half years, and in Monte-Carlo, he reunited with longtime coach Marian Vajda. Djokovic reached the Fever-Tree Championships final and won Wimbledon in July to show the tennis world he was back.
He'd climb from No. 22 to No. 1 to finish at the pinnacle of the year-end ATP Rankings for the fifth time (2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2018).
Watch Hot Shot: Djokovic Unleashes
5. Zverev Started Where He Left Off On Clay
Zverev didn't take home another Masters 1000 title on clay, but the German was showing close to his best level as the European clay-court season began. Zverev made the semi-finals in Monte-Carlo (l. to Nishikori) and improved to 17-7 on the season.
He'd bring that form the rest of the clay-court stretch as well. Zverev repeated as champion at the BMW Open By FWU in Munich, won his third Masters 1000 title at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Thiem) and made his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros.
Watch: Zverev Reflects On QF Win