Three days before the start of Rolex Monte Carlo Masters, first ATP clay tournaments of the season are gaining the pace with quarterfinals matches just around the corner in Estoril, Marrakech and Houston.
Estoril is the place with the most stacked field, but not all of the top names have reached out the quarters, as some notable upsets came true already. Hubert Hurkacz got eliminated in his first clay match of the year, after coming up short to Bernabe Zapata Miralles. The world's number 12 was a pre-match favorite with odd 1.41, but the Spaniard was surely one of the trickiest opponents in whole field to play against in the opening match. The semifinalist of this year's tournaments in Buenos Aires and Rio De Janeiro. Hurkacz prevailed in tiebreak of opening set, which did not bring any breaks in open play. Hurkacz was close to slip away the 4-0 advantage in decisive game, but secured it somehow with a score 9-7. The Pole could move up into a set and break lead in 2nd game of second set but did not convert two breakpoints. This set was much more shaky and it was the Spaniard who clinched it with a score 6-4. Zapata Miralles followed the blow in deciding set, starting it from an early break. The middle phase of this set was crucial for the fates of whole match. The world's number 43 made a huge hold in 4th game which was one of the match's highlights. Zapata Miralles defended 4 breakpoints in a game which was settled after 9 deuces (!). It has clearly discouraged Hurkacz, as he got broken in next game and did not take any fight, playing quite flat till the end. Zapata Miralles will play against 6th seed Miomir Kecmanovic in the quarters.
Marco Cecchinato reminds himself the great clay skills, which helped him to reach out the Roland Garros semifinals in 2017. The Italian prevails in a challenging part of draw, advancing to QF after making two upsets. Cecchinato defeated 7th seed Diego Schwartzman 6-3 7-6(8) in first round and followed this victory with another upset against fellowcountry Fabio Fognini, winning 4-6 6-3 6-3. Current world's number 96 was rated with an odd 3.14 against Schwartzman and 2.45 against Fognini. Quarterfinal's task seem to be any easier though, as the Italian will face Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, seeded as #3 in Estoril.
Dominic Thiem experiences a break-through week in Portugal. Two times Grand Slam finalist stopped the series of 5 defeats in a row, advancing into quarterfinals after defeating fellowcountry Sebastian Ofner 3-6 6-3 6-4 and Ben Shelton 6-2 6-2. Interestingly, it is the first red clay's tournament being played by the American in his entire career so far. The world's number 39 managed to win his first ever ATP match on clay against Constantin Lestienne in straight sets, but came up short to former Roland Garros runner up this time. Thiem will compete against Quentin Halys for the place in semifinals. The Frenchman made an upset on tournament's seed #4 - Roberto Bautista Agut, winning 7-6(5) 7-5.
Casper Ruud needed to take up the challenge against the local favorite Joao Sousa. Despite Ruud being a clear pre-match favorite with an odd 1.11, no one expected it to be a cakewalk for the Norwegian. And it was not indeed, as the Portuguese claimed opening set with a score 6-4. Ruud needed to regroup herself and done it well, winning two following sets 6-2, 6-2 and advancing into quarters. Another tricky task waits for Ruud there, as he plays another clay court specialist - Sebastian Baez. The Argentinian seeded with #5 approached quarterfinals without losing a set against Pedro Cachin and Radu Albot.
Three out of four top seeds won their opening matches in the tournament in Marrakech. Top seed Lorenzo Musetti won 6-2 6-3 against Hugo Gaston to advance into QF where he faces another Frenchman - Alexandre Muller. Muller made an upset on tournament's 6th seed and top ranked Frenchman, earning a 6-4 6-4 win against experienced Richard Gasquet. Botic Van De Zandschulp, seeded with #3, is the highest ranked player to miss the quarters after being defeated by Christopher Oconnell 7-6(8) 4-6 0-6. The Aussie will play his QF match against Pavel Kotov, who eliminated 7th seed Benjamin Bonzi 6-0 7-6(2). Second seed Daniel Evans against Andrea Vavassori and Tallon Griekspoor seeded with #4 against Roberto Carballes Baena is the bottom half's line up of Friday's quarters.
The hosts of tournament in Houston struggles with weather conditions, as both Wednesday's and Thursday's action was heavily tormented by the rainfall. Weather did not allow to complete any of matched in two days. None of the 2nd round matches was played so far, so the weekend in Houston will be full of action, if only weather will finally show any mercy for both the players and fans.