The Rolex-sponsored Monte Carlo Open is another ATP 1000 event for men, following Indian Wells and Miami Masters. It has its popularity with top tennis professionals for a crucial reason. The tournament presents the first true clay surface, which along with several upcoming events, affords an opportunity for acclimatizing the players in the run up to the year’s second Grand Slam, beginning May 25, 2014. After Monte Carlo, there are nearly similar playing surfaces at Barcelona, Bucharest, Oeiras, Munich, Madrid, Rome, Dusseldorf and Nice, before the players converge at Paris’s famed Roland Garros arena in the last week of May.

Monte Carlo Masters 2014Monte Carlo is the administrative part of the principality of Monaco, a tax haven and the country with the highest per capita income in the world. Many rich people maintain their residents, and of course their bank accounts, in Monaco, which does not have the culture of levying personal income-tax on one’s earnings. Because Monaco is conveniently located on the French and Italian Riviera, with less than 30 minutes driving time from Nice in France and Ventimiglia in Italy, rich and famous find it a great place to live. Formula 1 drivers; Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and tennis stars Victoria Azarenka and Noval Djokovic have their homes in Monaco. Other than Monte Carlo Open, Monaco also hosts Formula 1 Grand Prix every year on its winding streets, making for one of the trickiest race-tracks in the world. But one can see the entire race, without having to go the circuit, because residential and hotel-room balconies offer vantage points for enjoying the race.

This year’s tennis tournament boasts of 20 players featuring out of the top 25 ATP ranked players and it includes the top 6 in the world. As per the draw, defending champion Novak Djokovic is lined up for a clash with Roger Federer in the semifinal, while 8-time winner and 9-time finalist Rafael Nadal is drawn to meet his Australian open conqueror, Stanislas Wawrinka for his tenth entry in the final.

Most first round matches of the tournament were completed on April 14 and second rounds are scheduled for April 15. On Tuesday evening, the first two entries into men’s singles third round were Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and defending champion Novak Djokovic. While Tsonga defeated the German Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, Djokovic had an easier passage with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Spain’s Albert Montanes. Yesterday Montanes had beaten Paire Benoite of France 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in his first round match but Djokovic was a solid wall for him. Djokovic is one of the many seeded players, who had been allowed a bye. Yesterday, no. 10 seed Fabio Fognini had to battle it out with 25-year old Portuguese Soao Sousa before prevailing 5-7, 7-5, 6-4.

Expectedly, Rafael Nadal, the undisputed king of clay, has been seeded number 1 here. The Spaniard has won the tournament for eight consecutive years from 2005 to 2012 and his winning streak was snapped last year by Novak Djokovic. In 50 matches played so far since 2003, Nadal has lost just 2. Other than losing last year’s final, Nadal has only one more loss, when in 2003 the Argentinian Guillermo Coria beat him in a third round match. In 2005 final, Nadal took his revenge, when beat Coria in a tough four-set battle.

Roger Federer has never won the Monte Carlo Open despite several appearances but he had finished runners-up to Rafael Nadal in 2006, 2007 and 2008. This year, Federer is the fourth seed and his second round opponent is Radek Stepanek, who beat the Croatian Ivo Karlovic 6-1, 6-2. Roger Federer skipped Monte Carlo in 2012 and 2013 and took a wild card this year for his entry.

A notable feature of the Monte Carlo Open this year is a possibility of a landmark performance from world’s no. 1 doubles players Bob and Mike Bryan, who have already recorded 99 career victories playing together. They have won the tournament on three occasions in 2007, 2011 and 2012 and if they win this time, it will be their 100th career title.