Top-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is seeking a record seventh straight title at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters, said the clay-court event should become mandatory on the men’s ATP World Tour.
Although Monte Carlo is one of nine so-called Masters 1,000 events on the tour, it’s the only one that isn’t mandatory for the world’s best. Monte Carlo, one of the oldest events in tennis, is the clay-court season opening competition for many of the top-ranked men who will be competing for the French Open title in Paris in five weeks’ time. Nadal is seeking a sixth title at Roland Garros.
“Even though the tournament lost the status of mandatory, it’s something that in the future must change another time and become mandatory,” Nadal told a small group of reporters at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
“That’s because this tournament is for sure one of the best Masters 1,000 in the world, if not the best,” said the Spaniard, who is a member of the ATP Player Council. The lefthander started his clay-court season today with a 6-2, 6-2 win against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland.
Lure Top Players
Under the guidance of then ATP president Etienne de Villiers, the men’s tour in 2007 rebranded its Masters Series of tournaments in cities including Miami, Rome and Shanghai as “1,000” events. The other cities were Indian Wells, California; Madrid; Toronto/Montreal; Cincinnati; and Paris. A plan to downgrade the Monte Carlo event, which was first held in 1897, to a lower status with fewer ranking points and less prize money was never carried out, partly because of opposition from top players including Nadal and then world No. 1 Roger Federer. Instead, Monte Carlo became a non-mandatory 1,000 event.
Losing Masters status, which is one step below the four Grand Slams, may affect a tournament’s ability to lure top players.
“It is impossible to downgrade a tournament like Monte Carlo,” Nadal said. “There is the history of this tournament, the tradition, the place, the city. Everything is too important to downgrade a tournament like this.”
Tournament director Zeljko Franulovic said the event should get mandatory status because of its history.
“Before it became a Masters series, there was an unfortunate period where the ATP was, rightly or wrongly, trying to do something else,” Franulovic said. “Everything came out good, except for us. That we are a Masters 1,000 is very good, but it would have been perfect if we could have this commitment behind us.”
‘It Is Monaco’
Most players like the Monaco tournament so much that its non-mandatory status has not affected its ability to attract the world’s best that much, Franulovic said.
French Open finalist Robin Soderling of Sweden and Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic of Serbia are the only players in the top ten who have pulled out of Monte Carlo this week, both with an injury.
“At the end of the day, it is Monaco,” third-ranked Federer told a news conference before the start of the tournament. The Swiss national, who has yet to win Monte Carlo even though he’s appeared in three finals, yesterday started his clay-court season with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
“It remains an interesting location for players and fans and media,” Federer said. “It’s the beginning of the clay-court season. It would have kept its mystique. But at the same time, I really felt it deserved a Masters 1,000 status and that’s why Rafa and myself fought for it, because we thought tradition was still a very important part of our game.”