After his early exit from the Aussie Open, the 11-time Monaco champion Rafael Nadal had announced that he would return to the tour within 6-8 weeks, leading many to speculate that Miami was a realistic option. However, Nadal did not appear in the United States and also skipped another Masters 1K event – his second favorite after Roland Garros. Along with Nadal, two other big names, Carlos Alcaraz (spine) and Félix Auger-Aliassime (left knee), were also missing from the Monte Carlo entry list… Novak Đoković returned to action, having not played officially in March due to being unvaccinated and unable to go to the USA; he lost a dramatic, rain-interrupted third round match to Lorenzo Musetti, who entered it having won 19 straight games… Andrey Rublev, an elite player since 2020, has finally captured a prestigious title. Although he had won many “ATP 500” titles, he had never conquered a Masters 1K event or advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal. In a dramatic final against Holger Rune, whom Rublev had defeated in a thrilling contest during this year’s Australian Open, Rublev came back from a point to avoid a double break in the deciding set. “I have tears,” Rublev said. “I don’t know what to say to be honest. I don’t know. I am just happy, finally. [I have] been struggling so much to win this freaking Masters 1000 tournament. Finally losing 1:4, Love-30, saving break point, thinking there is no chance to win, and somehow I did it.”
Rublev was not known for winning tight matches frequently, but he has had luck on his side since he overcame his compatriot Daniil Medvedev at ATP World Finals last year. Since then, he has won five matches when close to defeat, including three matches where he was down match points, and has not lost once when he put himself in a position to win the match. Additionally, his tie-break ratio has been excellent lately, with a record of 10-1.
Mark-Kevin Goellner  was a new revelation of the season in southern France. The 22-year-old German (not spelled “Göllner” as he was born in Brazil) was virtually unknown prior to that week. He managed to reach his first ATP semifinal as a qualifier, and could be very happy facing one of the best players in the world, Stefan Edberg. Goellner had other ideas, though. He not only defeated Edberg but also shocked another legend of the game, Ivan Lendl, in the final, despite initially trailing 1-6, *1:2 (0/30). Goellner had a powerful serve, modern top-spin forehand, and nice variety in his game-style. He would notch another valuable results on clay soon, and many people thought of him as an upcoming star of the tour. However, it didn’t happen, as the year 1993 remained his best, despite playing professional tennis for another ten years.
It was an ideal scenario for tennis fans that just a week after the change of guards at the peak of men’s tennis, the two best players faced each other in the final to confirm or deny the new status. The freshly crowned Pete Sampras needed 2 hours 51 minutes to struggle past Jim Courier in Hong Kong. Despite almost three hours of play, there was just one break of serve which Sampras gained as he led 3:2 in the 1st set (he didn’t face a break point). Courier saved a match point in the 12th game of the final set with a serve-and-volley action, but Sampras easily won the ensuing tie-break racing to a 4:0 lead. “I’ll be taking off a week now,” said the exhausted Sampras. “I’ll hang up the racket for a couple of days. I’m supposed to play in Atlanta on clay in eight days, but we’ll see how I feel.” Sampras also had a very tough match in the semifinal, he trailed *5:6 (0/30) in the 3rd set before overcoming the unpredictable Amos Mansdorf 2-6, 7-6, 7-6 (there were four breaks in the decider).
The first out of four clay-court events on American clay was won in North Carolina by Horacio de la Peña , who trailed *3:4 (15/40) in the deciding set of the final against another South American player. It was the fourth and last ATP title for the 27-year-old left-handed Argentinian, who would finish his career one year later. In the semifinal (7-6, 7-5), De la Peña fended off five set points in a 14/12 tie-break against Claudio Mezzadri – it lasted 1 hour 21 minutes, the longest tie-break set on the tour in the first half of the season that year.
Monte Carlo (Masters 1K, clay outdoors)
(5)🇷🇺Andrey Rublev d. (6)🇩🇰Holger Rune 5-7, 6-2, 7-5
Nice ($275K, clay outdoors)
(q)🇩🇪Mark-Kevin Goellner d. (5)🇺🇸Ivan Lendl 1-6, 6-4, 6-2
Hong Kong ($275K, hard outdoors)
(2)🇺🇸Pete Sampras d. (1)🇺🇸Jim Courier 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(2)
Charlotte ($275K, green clay outdoors)
🇦🇷Horacio de la Peña d. (3)🇵🇪Jaime Yzaga 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
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