The Greatest Players in Monte Carlo Masters History

by GP
bjorn borg

The Monte-Carlo Masters, an annual Masters 1000 event, began in 1896 and is held at the Monte Carlo Country Club in the Principality of Monaco in April every year. It is the first Masters 1000 event on the tennis calendar which is held on clay and marks the beginning of the high-stake European clay season.

Greatest Players and Records 

Rafael Nadal

When you think about players and records at Monte Carlo, one man stands alone at the helm – Rafael Nadal. The tournament has been so heavily dominated by the Spaniard, that he holds almost all the plausible records at this tournament. He is the Prince of the Monegasque clay, validated by the following numbers:

Most titles11
Most finals12
Most consecutive titles8 (2005-12)
Most consecutive finals9 (2005-13)
Most matches played79
Highest winning %92.4%
Most consecutive matches won46
Nadal at the Monte-Carlo Masters

After losing to the Argentine Guillermo Coria in the 3rd round in his tournament debut in 2003 as a 16-year-old, Nadal did not lose a single match at this tournament from 2005-12, an astonishing record across all tournaments on the professional tour. Guillermo Coria was considered by many to be the best clay court player during the period 2003-04, whom Nadal beat in in the 2005 final to lift his first Monte Carlo crown. He then went on to beat Roger Federer in 3 consecutive finals from 2006-08, followed by Novak Djokovic, Fernando Verdasco, David Ferrer and Novak Djokovic during 2009-12. His streak of 46 consecutive match wins at the tournament was only broken in the 2013 final where he lost to Novak Djokovic, the then world number 1. 

Rafael Nadal’s most dominant tournament win however came at the 2010 edition, when he lost only 14 games during the entire tournament, an open era record (tied with Ken Roswell in the Chicago 1969 Masters). This included handing a crushing defeat (6-0, 6-1) to his fellow countryman Fernando Verdasco in the final. He is also the only player in tennis history to win the ‘Clay Slam’ – winning Monte Carlo, Madrid, Rome and the French Open in a single year!

The Spaniard’s unprecedented dominance at the Monte Carlo Masters was further cemented when he won another hattrick of titles in 2016, 17 and 18. No one in the history of the game has won the same Masters 1000 event 10 times. In 2017, he became the first man in the open era to win the same event at least 10 times. Moreover, this is not the only event he has won at least 10 times – a topic for another day!

There are 3 other players who have won Monte Carlo a total of 3 times each in the open era. 

Björn Borg

The former world number 1 Swede (image on top), regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, won the Monte Carlo Masters 3 times – 1977, 1979 and 1980. He was a dominant force during these triumphs, winning all his finals in straight sets, including a 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 win over the great Guillermo Villas in 1980. He was an all-court player and a tennis phenom at the time, winning 6 French Opens and 5 Wimbledon titles, all between 1974 and 1981 at the age of 25!

Long before Rafael Nadal came to the fore, Borg ruled the clay. Who can forget Borg’s 1978 French Open triumph when he lost a total of only 32 games to the title, the least games lost by any grand slam champion till date. The Swede won all six finals he played at the French Open and lost only 2 matches there. Amassing 32 titles on the surface during his short career (retiring at the age of 26), he had an overall winning % of ~86% on the surface.

Thomas Muster

The left-handed Austrian former world number 1 also won the Monte Carlo Masters 3 times – 1992, 1995 and 1996. He was regarded as the ‘King of Clay’ during the early 90’s when he won 24 consecutive clay-court finals between May 1990 and July 1995, including the 1995 French Open. In 1995, he won 40 consecutive matches on the red dirt, which was one of the longest streaks on the surface back then, since Bjorn Borg’s 48-match winning streak between 1977-1979. He won a whopping 40 of his 44 career titles on clay with a win % of 77.0% on the surface. 

The ‘King of Clay’ title undoubtedly would later belong to Rafael Nadal who had a min-boggling 81-match winning streak on clay between 2005 and 2007, which is the longest surface streak in the Open era. 

Ilie Nastase

The Romanian sensation, especially known for his Davis Cup performances, won the Monte Carlo Masters for 3 consecutive years during 1971-1973. He even beat Borg in straight sets in the 1973 edition final. Overall, he had a career winning % of 79.0% on clay which is amongst the top 6 of all time.

Many other players have won Monte Carlo twice in the open era, which include clay court legend Guillermo Villas, Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, Sergi Bruguera, Gustavo Kuerten and Juan Carlos Ferrero. Also to note, Guillermo Villas won the title in 1976 and 1982 and was also in the 1981 final against Jimmy Connors, however that match was abandoned due to rain at 5-5 in the first set. Hence, both finalists were declared as runner-up. 

Amongst the current active players, Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas have 2 Monte Carlo titles each and are currently in the semifinals of Monte Carlo 2024. They have the opportunity to join the elite club of being a 3-time champion at Monte Carlo.

It is important to mention that the players mentioned in this article are the ones who have specifically enjoyed success at the Monte Carlo Masters. There are multiple other legends of clay who may not have won as many titles at Monte Carlo but may probably rank higher in terms of the greatest players of all time on the surface.

Overall, on clay, Guillermo Villas, Ivan Lendl, Manuel Orantes, Novak Djokovic, Mats Wilander, Roger Federer and Gustavo Kuerten are right up there with the players listed above, which I will cover in detail in my next piece.

Written by Abhinav Hans

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