Reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka continues his campaign in Rome against veteran clay-courter, Argentine Juan Monaco. Wawrinka needs some more matches under his belt on clay before he defends his French Open championship in Paris in just over a week.
Wawrinka lost to eventual Monte Carlo Rolex Masters champion Rafael Nadal at the quarterfinals stage and he lost in his first match in Madrid to Nick Kyrgios in two tiebreakers, so it is important that Wawrinka has a good week in the Eternal City as he is defending semifinalist points from last year.
How they got here
Juan Monaco is using a protected ranking as he suffered a wrist injury during the second half of the 2015 ATP World Tour season which ruled him out of the Australian Open as well. The Argentine is a former top ten player and he was ranked at his career high ranking of number 10 back in 2012 but injuries and a loss of form caused him to plummet down the rankings.
Monaco has picked up two wins to reach this stage of the tournament He defeated American Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-4 and he battled past big serving South African and 16th seed Kevin Anderson 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, who is also coming back from injury himself.
Wawrinka meanwhile, won his match in three sets as well, defeating his good friend Benoit Paire 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to set up his fifth career meeting with Monaco.
Wawrinka fourth favourite for the French Open?
The Swiss star is behind Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray in that order to triumph in Paris. Djokovic had a blip in Monte Carlo where he lost in three sets to Jiri Vesely, Rafael Nadal looks to be back to his best and Andy Murray is now an established claycourt player after he used to struggle on this surface but in the past couple of years, Murray has reached the sem-finals of the French Open and picked up his first two clay court titles in Munich and Madrid last year, defeating Nadal in the final of the latter.
Wawrinka is inconsistent but if he can play out of this world tennis like he did on Court Philippe Chatrier against Novak Djokovic to claim his second major, then there is no reason why Stan can't win the French Open again but it is crucial that he has a good week here in Rome.
Wawrinka and Monaco have played each other four times with Wawrinka having a flawless 4-0 record against the Argentine. They have met three times on clay and once on a hard court. Their first contest was in Monaco's hometown of Buenos Aires in the quarterfinals which Wawrinka won 7-5, 6-3 in 2011. Their next three encounters took place in Masters 1000 events, where Monaco took the opening set against the fourth seed in Shanghai, 6-3, but Wawrinka won the next two by the same scoreline to have a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. Their next two meetings took place last year in Monte Carlo which Wawrinka dispatched him 6-1, 6-4 and they met last year in Rome which Wawrinka won 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round.
This is a good match for Wawrinka as he against a veteran who knows his way around a clay court. Having a 4-0 record against Monaco will help Wawrinka mentally but sometimes Wawrinka has mental fragilities and he cannot afford to have that against Monaco because the Argentine is more than capable of taking advantage and winning the match.
The winner of this match will face Lucky Loser Lucas Pouille or ninth seed David Ferrer. The 2008 runner-up in Rome, Wawrinka will fancy his chances to reach the semifinals here for the second consecutive year in a row.
It will be a tight match with a few breaks here and there but Wawrinka is a better player and should come through this match.
Prediction: Wawrinka to win this match in straight sets.