A blockbuster third-round contest in Monte-Carlo will pit Rafael Nadal against Alexander Zverev on Thursday. A place in the quarterfinals will also be at stake when Stan Wawrinka continues his campaign against Pablo Cuevas.
(14) Alexander Zverev vs. (4) Rafael Nadal
Nadal and Zverev will be going head-to-head for the third time in their careers when they clash in the third round of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Thursday. Their two previous encounters have not disappointed. Nadal survived 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5 at the 2016 Indian Wells Masters, where Zverev infamously bricked an easy volley on his own match point. The 19-year-old German, who in fact turns 20 on Thursday, came close again at this season’s Australian Open before going down 4-6, 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2 as Nadal eventually made his way to the final. Roger Federer ended the Spaniard’s run Down Under and toppled him again in Indian Wells (fourth round) and Miami (title match). Nadal has otherwise been stellar in 2017, with a 20-2 record against opponents not named Federer following his 6-0, 5-7, 7-3 victory over Kyle Edmund on Wednesday.
Although it is still early, arguably no one has been better this week than Zverev. The world No. 20 is through to last 16 without the loss of a set and he did not even come close to dropping set in routs of Andreas Seppi and Feliciano Lopez. Zverev is 13-6 for a season that has been highlighted by a title in Montpellier and a quarterfinal performance in Miami. This will not be easy for Nadal, but he should showcase more consistency in his second clay-court match of the year and maintain the kind of level that was on display in his opening set against Edmund.
Pick: Nadal in 2
Like Nadal, Wawrinka also endured a scare in his Wednesday opener but battled to a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 win over Jiri Vesely–who upset Novak Djokovic at this tournament last spring. The third-ranked Swiss captured the Monte-Carlo title in 2015 to go along with one other semifinal finish (2009) and three quarterfinal showings.
Wawrinka is one victory away from another appearance in the last eight, but his form has been unspectacular of late (15-5 record this season with no titles) and Cuevas is one of the best dirt-ballers in the business. Although the 27th-ranked Uruguayan is just 10-6 this year, he captured a clay-court title in Sao Paulo–for his sixth career winner’s trophy and sixth on the red stuff. Cuevas has advanced this week by taking out Viktor Troicki and Joao Sousa in easy straight sets. Unfortunately for the 16th seed, he is just 3-10 lifetime against top-10 opponents and is 0-3 in his last three such efforts.
Pick: Wawrinka in 3