After his stunning victory over 2014 champion, Stan Wawrinka, Pablo Cuevas seeks further progress at the Monte Carlo Masters when he takes on French eleventh seed, Lucas Pouille in the quarter-finals on Friday.
Wawrinka was admittedly off-colour in Thursday’s 6-4 6-4 loss to Cuevas, but that takes absolutely nothing away from a magnificent performance by the Uruguayan, who barely gave the former champion a sniff in a clinical 76-minute dispatch.
Cuevas broke early in both sets, and did not give up a single break point throughout the contest as he went on to record his first ever victory over a player ranked in the ATP’s top four. Cuevas has been in excellent form this week, getting through three rounds without dropping a set. The world number 27 took out Viktor Troicki 6-3 6-0 in the opening round, before easing past Portugal’s Joao Sousa 6-3 6-3 in the second round- and then his brilliant win over Wawrinka in the round of 16.
Cuevas’ victory over Wawrinka came hot on the heels of Andy Murray’s surprise exit from the tournament (the top seed was knocked out by Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas)- and with Murray and Wawrinka out of the way, opportunity beckons on someone from the top half to advance to a rare Masters 1000 semi-final.
Cuevas has been a bit hit-or-miss this year. He lost in the opening rounds at the Australian Open, Buenos Aires, Rio and Miami, but yet, won the title in Sao Paolo, and reached a very commendable quarter final at the Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells- and here he is again in his second Masters 1000 quarter final of the season.
Standing between Cuevas and the Monte Carlo semi-finals is Frenchman, Lucas Pouille.
Pouille has also enjoyed serene progress in this week. The world number 17 scored identical 6-2 6-4 victories over Ryan Harrison and Paolo Lorenzi in the opening two rounds, before benefiting from the injury-enforced retirement of compatriot Adrian Mannarino in the third round, who threw in the towel while trailing 3-0 in the opening set.
Pouille is seeking his third semi-final of the season, having reached the last four in Dubai (lost to Murray), and got to the final in Marseille (beaten by Tsonga). After a superb 2016 which yielded consecutive Grand Slam quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the US Open, and a first career title in Metz, Pouille was slow off the blocks in 2017- his cause not helped by a foot injury sustained in his first tournament of the season in Brisbane.
After a opening the year with a dismal 1-3 record, Pouille picked up the pace with those strong runs in Marseille and Dubai, before slipping into another bad patch in Indian Wells and Miami. The Frenchman won just one match over the two Masters 1000 meets, taken out by Donald Young in both tournaments.
Pouille stopped over on the clay of Rouen to lead France past Great Britain in the Davis Cup quarter finals, before hoping over to Monte Carlo, where he has so far been untroubled.
That is likely to change when he takes on Pablo Cuevas in Friday’s quarter final.
This will be the first meeting between two players who are very comfortable on clay, and are both in very good form. Cuevas is perhaps the savvier, and definitely the more experienced of the two, and he starts as the slight favourite for me.
The Uruguayan’s majestic single-handed backhand probably shades Pouille’s competent double hander, while the Frenchman gets the nod with both serve and forehand for me- although Cuevas struck that forehand beautifully against Wawrinka on Thursday. We are talking margins here. There really isn’t plenty between both players, but Cuevas’ greater clay-court nous and experience tilts this in his favour.