Monaco’s international tennis tournament has long been more than just a sporting event. It is an event for the whole family in one of the most spectacular settings in the south of France - even on the global tennis circuit, no stadium or court can compete with the Monte-Carlo Country Club. From 15th to 23rd April, it will be the stage for matches between the best players in the world as the likes of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal head to the principality for the year’s first clay court matches.
"They love the tournament,” says director Zeljko Franulovic in his usual direct style. It is not arrogance, it is a fact. At a press conference earlier this year, Franulovic highlighted competitor support for the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters with a video message from record winner Nadal. He will be back in 2017, of course, and he is already looking forward to the tournament. At the 111th edition of the event, Nadal will be fighting for his 10th title in Monaco.
Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Björn Borg and many other familiar names are in the winners' list of the competition, which was launched more than 100 years ago. Today’s director Franulovic scooped the win almost 50 years ago, but none have dominated the tournament in the same way as Rafa.
Local hero Djokovic, a Monaco resident and Nadal’s most serious competitor this year as well as in the past, confirmed his presence at the Rolex Masters long before the official notification came through.
Roger Federer, another player who alternates between tennis god and audience favorite just like Nadal and Djoko, is yet to confirm whether he will attend. “Not because he does not want to come,” says Franulovic, but because the 35-year-old number nine in the world prefers to see how his game is and how his body is feeling the run-up to an event. We’ll know more on 22nd March when the official participant list will be announced.
For the 111th edition, the tournament has been kept traditional and pure. Most sideline events and programme highlights are well-tried among players and spectators such as the Children’s Day on the first Sunday, the drawing of the names ceremony (this time at 6.30pm in the Exotic Gardens of Monaco on 14th April) and the ‘Big Night of Tennis’ before the semi-finals (with a tribute to Abba in 2017).
Changes are on the horizon, though, for 2018. According to Alain Manigley of the SMETT (Société Monégasque pour l'Exploitation de Tournoi de Tennis), the time-honoured facility is shortly to be extended with a new modern, more functional building. It will primarily be used for press conferences and media occasions. “The players of today are often two metres tall with huge bags and an entourage. They barely fit through the corridors!” Manigley laughs.
If you’re hoping to attend, be quick to reserve your tickets as they sell out faster and faster every year.