Monte Carlo hosts the first clay court Masters tournament of the year. One of the oldest events in professional tennis, it is a firm favourite with fans and players alike, who flock to the idyllic setting of the Monte Carlo Country Club every April.
Monaco first staged a tennis event back in 1897, when clay court tennis was beginning to attract international attention. The Doherty brothers of Great Britain swept the first ten editions of the tournament, and there wasn’t a French winner until Max Décugis triumphed in 1910.
Many of the biggest stars of the amateur era were victorious in Monte Carlo, including American legend Bill Tilden, “Musketeer” Henri Cochet and Spanish great Manuel Santana. As the Open Era dawned in 1969, the tournament continued to attract the best players in the game. It was one of the major events on the ATP’s Grand Prix Tour from 1970-1989 before becoming a Masters competition in recent years.
No player has ever had a such a stranglehold on one event as Rafael Nadal has on the Monte-Carlo Masters. The Spaniard has won the tournament every year since 2005, a record-breaking run of eight consecutive titles that hasn’t been equalled anywhere else. During his reign, Nadal has fended off Roger Federer three times and Novak Djokovic twice, cementing yet further his reputation as the King of Clay.
Although no player comes close to matching this historic achievement, several men have triumphed multiple times in Monte Carlo since the beginning of the Open Era. Ilie Nastase won three titles in a row from 1971-1973, while compatriots Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander each won a hat-trick of trophies in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1996, Thomas Muster also won a third title at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
Muster def. Becker, 1995 final:
Boris Becker’s illustrious career had one glaring omission: the powerful serve-volleyer had never won a major clay court title. Having twice finished as runner-up in Monte Carlo, the German looked set for a career breakthrough when he won the opening two sets against Thomas Muster in 1995. Although Muster bounced back to take the third 6-1, Becker carved out two match points at 6-4 in the fourth set tie-break. But an uncharacteristic double fault followed by a netted forehand put paid to those opportunities, and his opponent capitalised, charging through the decider 6-0. Never again would Becker come so close to winning a trophy on clay.
Video: Muster v Becker, 1995
Nadal def. Federer, 2006 final:
Coming into the Monte Carlo showpiece match, Roger Federer had lost only one match in 2006, and that was to 19-year-old Rafael Nadal. Facing the Spaniard on clay for only the second time, Federer recovered from losing a one-sided opening set to take the second on a tie-break. As the match became more tense, the best players in the world thrilled the Monte Carlo fans with extraordinary displays of stamina and clutch shotmaking. Federer looked set to push the match into a fifth set when he led 3-0 in the fourth set tie-break, but Nadal’s remarkable fighting spirit shone through in the final moments, and he closed out the classic contest 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6 in three hours and 49 minutes.
Video: Nadal v Federer, 2006
- There is a strong correlation between players who win in Monte Carlo and go on to win the French Open the same year: Nadal in 2005 - 2008 and 2010 - 2010, Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003, Gustavo Kuerten in 2001, Carlos Moya in 1998, Thomas Muster in 1995 and Sergi Brugera in 1993 each won the Monte Carlo/Roland Garros double.
- The Monte Carlo Masters is the only non-mandatory Masters event for ATP’s top players.
- Tim Henman won the doubles title twice in Monte Carlo.
- Cedric Pioline, the 2000 champion, is the only Frenchman to have triumphed in the Open Era.
- The most lopsided final in the history of the event was in 2010, when Rafael Nadal thrashed compatriot Fernando Verdasco 6-0, 6-1.