The old adage of "one match at a time" couldn't apply more heavily to this year's Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters draw. While some fans may be looking ahead to a championship clash between top seed Novak Djokovic and second seed Rafael Nadal, their draws have plenty of obstacles to clear once main draw action starts on Sunday in the first clay-court ATP Masters 1000 event of the year.
Two-time champion Djokovic will open his campaign against Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis or Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany. Kohlschreiber recorded a stunning third-round upset of the World No. 1 last month at the BNP Paribas Open. Should the top seeds progress through the draw as projected, Djokovic could face No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in the quarter-finals. The 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals champion defeated Djokovic in their only FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting last year at the Rogers Cup.
Nadal begins his quest for an unprecedented 12th title at this event against Aussie John Millman or Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, but could have a blockbuster third-round clash against No. 15 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada or Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Clay-court specialists including former Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, No. 11 seed and 2018 Roland Garros semi-finalist Marco Cecchinato of Italy, and Rio Open presented by Claro champion Laslo Djere of Serbia also loom in his quarter.
"This has always been a very special place for me," said Nadal during the draw ceremony. "I watched all of the great champions here as a kid, so it was always a dream for me to be here."
Third seed Alexander Zverev is in the bottom half of the draw and will look to shake off a disappointing early exit this week at the Grand Prix Hassan II. The German could have a blockbuster opening-round clash against #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime. Kei Nishikori, last year's Monte-Carlo finalist and the fifth seed this year, could await in the quarter-finals.
Fourth seed Dominic Thiem is in the top half of the draw and looks to start his favourite part of the season with a flourish. The Austrian starts out against a qualifier or Martin Klizan of Slovakia, but No. 16 seed David Goffin looms in the third round. The Belgian leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head 7-3 and has won their past three matches. No. 8 seed Karen Khachanov is Thiem's projected quarter-final opponent and the Russian won their only FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting last year at the Rolex Paris Masters.
Intriguing first-round matches to watch include No. 9 seed Borna Coric of Croatia squaring off against in-form Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 17 seed Kyle Edmund of Great Britain taking on Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, and Wawrinka battling against Frenchman Lucas Pouille.