This year's edition of the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters has sprung a lot of upsets as world number one Andy Murray and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka have both fallen by the wayside in the top half of the draw. Albert Ramos Viñolas, the 15th seed upset the top seed in the third round, advancing to his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal on the 31st attempt. Ramos Viñolas' semifinal opponent, Lucas Pouille is a two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, has come through the draw with little problems. The top half of the draw has opened up and the 15th seeded-Spaniard and 11th seed have a golden opportunity to advance to their first Masters 1000 final.
Ramos Viñolas' route to the semifinals
The 29-year-old Spaniard has a great clay court pedigree as he has reached four career finals with three of them coming on the red dirt. Ramos Viñolas won his solitary title last year in Bastad defeating his compatriot Fernando Verdasco, and he reached a final in Sao Paolo last month, losing to Pablo Cuevas in three sets, despite winning the opening set. The 15th seed had a favorable draw to settle into the tournament nicely. Last year's French Open quarterfinalist cruised past Argentinian qualifiers Renzo Olivo and Carlos Berlocq surrendering a mere nine games in his opening two matches. In the third round, Ramos Viñolas had to step up a notch against the top seed Andy Murray. Murray was competing in his first tournament in a month after healing an elbow injury. Nevertheless, the top seed won the first set, and the Spaniard won the second set, and it looked as though that the Brit had turned the screw in the final set, taking a commanding 4-0 lead. However, Ramos Viñolas didn't give up and put on an incredible comeback to upset the world number one, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 securing his first victory over a reigning world number one. In the quarterfinals, the Spaniard was up against, the 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic, who won their last three encounters. The 15th seed was in superb form but once again it was a three set battle which he overcame after a slight wobble in the second set, he rallied from 2-0 down in the deciding set to win six consecutive games, registering a 6-2, 6-7 (5), 6-2 victory over the fifth seed advancing to the biggest semifinal of his career in Monte Carlo.
Pouille's route to the semifinals
The 11th seeded Frenchman has taken advantage of a draw that has fallen apart, and the two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist who defeated Rafael Nadal in a five-set epic at the US Open last year has moved through the draw quietly. Pouille recorded identical 6-2, 6-4 victories over the USA's Ryan Harrison and Paolo Lorenzi to reach the third round. The 23-year-old virtually had a bye into the quarterfinals as his compatriot Adrian Mannarino retired 3-0 down in the early goings of the first set. However, in the quarterfinals, Pouille was up against 16th seed Pablo Cuevas, and the experienced Uruguayan put in a sublime performance to upset the third seed Stan Wawrinka. Nevertheless, Pouille cruised through the opening set without dropping a single game but Cuevas responded and took the second set. The 11th seed had a strong start in the deciding set, saving break points and he broke Cuevas' serve to lead 2-0. However, Cuevas immediately broke back and was serving for the match leading 5-3, 30-0 but he was unable to close out the match. The two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist fought back to defeat the 16th seed, 6-0, 3-6, 7-5, sealing a place in his second Masters 1000 semifinal, first achieving this as a Lucky Loser on the clay courts in Rome last year.
Ramos Viñolas and Pouille have met on one occasion on the main tour with the 11th seed winning that encounter in the quarterfinal in Auckland back in 2015 with relative ease, 6-3, 6-2. They did meet on the Challenger Tour at the Kenitra Challenger event in 2014 with the Spaniard winning that match in three sets, 6-0, 1-6, 7-6 (0).
Who reaches their first Masters 1000 final?
As aforementioned, this will be the biggest semifinal to date in Ramos Viñolas' career, and the Spaniard has been playing awe-inspiring tennis this week in Monte Carlo. The 15th seed's movement is exceptional on this surface, and he possesses a good forehand which has helped him reached the semifinals this week. However, the backhand side is the weakest aspect of his game, which Cilic tried to exploit in the quarterfinals but was unable to consistently.
Pouille is an all-court player and his forehand is a ferocious weapon when is firing on all cylinders. The 11th seed showed his grit and determination against Cuevas in the quarterfinals, and the Frenchman has a lot more in the tank than Ramos Viñolas. However, the Spaniard will be full of confidence after ousting two Grand Slam champions in Murray and Cilic back-to-back and completing comebacks in the process to get the job done. This will be an intriguing semifinal encounter between both players, Pouille will have the majority of the crowd behind him but Ramos Viñolas will have his supporters too, and despite being the lower-seeded player, the Spaniard can overcome Pouille and advance to his first Masters 1000 final.
This semifinal encounter will be on Court Rainier III, and the winner of this match will play either the two-time champion Novak Djokovic, defending champion and nine-time winner Rafael Nadal, tenth seed David Goffin or Diego Schwartzman in the final.
Prediction: Ramos Viñolas in three sets.