Like the first weeks of any sporting season, the opening exchanges of the European clay-court campaign can be as unpredictable as the spin of the roulette wheel at the casino just down the road here from the Monte Carlo Country Club. Although Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer won their opening matches yesterday, there has been the usual flow of upsets elsewhere.
By mid-afternoon there were no Frenchmen left and by the end of the day Juan Martin del Potro, the world No 5, had become the highest-ranked player to have his stay cut short after losing to Ivan Ljubicic.
Fabio Fognini's 6-2, 6-0 victory over Marin Cilic was an even bigger surprise. Cilic, the world No 18, is one of the game's most exciting young talents but the 19-year-old Croatian was no match for an opponent 80 places beneath him in the rankings.
The key to 21-year-old Fognini's victory could be found in another statistic: the Italian is appearing in his seventh clay-court tournament of the season and has already played 17 matches on his favourite surface.
Andy Murray will play Fognini in today's third round. They have met only once as seniors, in Montreal two summers ago. Murray, playing in his second comeback match after a serious wrist injury, won only four games.
"I was still hitting sliced forehands and wasn't ready at all," Murray said. "He's been ranked around 80 or 100 for the last year or so. He plays well on clay. It's his best surface. He's a talented player. He looks like he is quite lazy on the court, but he moves very well."
If Fognini's comfort was evident, those who were taking their first tournament steps on terre battue for more than 10 months appeared less at ease.
Even the king of clay himself looked like a raw pretender at times. Nadal, who played without strapping on his troublesome knees for the first time for a year, made plenty of mistakes in his 6-2, 6-3 victory over Juan Ignacio Chela, although the world No 1 rarely looked in serious danger. "I did some terrible games," Nadal admitted.
Federer, playing his first match as a married man, beat Italy's Andreas Seppi 6-4, 6-4. "I thought I played OK," he said afterwards. "Maybe I could have made it easier in the second. I had some opportunities, but he hung in there and I didn't play my best."Reuse content