World no. 12 Karen Khachanov was one of the players to keep an eye on in the new season after his great run in Paris last November but outside some positive signs from Indian Wells we are yet to see the best from the Russian in 2019.
The 8th seed fell to a qualifier Lorenzo Sonego 7-6, 6-4 in an hour and 52 minutes in the opening match in Monte Carlo, staying on just seven triumphs in the current year and hoping for a better run in the rest of the clay season.
This was the fourth Masters 1000 win for the 23-year-old Italian who repelled seven out of eight break points, stealing Karen's serve twice and prevailing in the crucial moments to secure the spot in the last 16. Hitting 27 winners and 20 unforced errors, Lorenzo controlled the pace in the rallies, overpowering Karen in the shortest, mid-range and most extended rallies to earn the triumph in straight sets.
The Italian saved three break points in the opening game of the match and opened a 3-1 advantage when Khachanov sent a backhand long in game four. The Russian broke back in the next game with a forehand winner, wasting three more chances at 3-3 that proved to be crucial as Sonego grabbed the opener after 68 minutes with a 7-4 run in the tie break.
Karen faded from the court after that, taking just three points on the return in set number two and getting broken at 3-3 to push Sonego towards the finish line. A service winner sent Lorenzo 5-3 in front and Karen was forced to receive a medical timeout on his right leg, bringing the ninth game home before a qualifier sealed the deal with a service winner in the next game for one of his career-best wins.
The 34-year-old Gilles Simon defeated a qualifier Alexei Popyrin 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 23 minutes, losing serve twice and taming his shots nicely for masters 1000 win number 122. Gilles had the advantage in all kind of exchanges, overcoming a 4-2 deficit in the opener and taking it with another break at 5-5.
There was only one player on the court in set number two, with Simon losing three points on serve and securing three commanding breaks to race into the second round in front of the home fans. The 23-year-old Briton Cameron Norrie notched the first Masters 1000 win, beating Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 6-3 in an hour and 19 minutes after a dominant performance that saw him losing only 15 points in nine service games.
With no break points up for grabs, Mannarino was unable to follow that pace behind the initial shot, suffering three breaks to send Cameron through, facing Marton Fucsovics on Wednesday in round two. In the longest best-of-three match so far in 2019, Borna Coric prevailed against Jaume Munar 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in three hours and 28 minutes, saving 12 out of 15 break points and clinching four breaks to emerge at the top after an epic battle.
It was a great match between two of the finest clay-courters, with both hitting more winners than unforced errors and with Coric who fired 60 winners and went to the net more than 70 times, being the more aggressive player on the court and having the edge in the shortest and longest rallies.
Coric saved three set points at 4-5 in the opener before Munar seized it in the tie break 7-3 after 70 minutes, looking good to extend his great run on clay so far in 2019. At 5-5 in set number two, Borna was the one who had to dig deep, repelling three break points and wasting two set points in the next game, having to win a tie break to remain in contention.
He saved a match point at 5-6, taking the breaker 9-7 to escape from the verge of defeat and set the decider where a double break pushed him 4-1 up. Munar pulled one break back and had the opportunity to level the score at 4-4 and extend the marathon even more with two break points in game eight.
Borna stayed composed to fend them off, squandering two match points on the return in the next game before crossing the finish line with a comfortable hold in game ten for the place in the last 16. The 11th seed Marco Cecchinato performed a miracle escape against a former winner Stan Wawrinka, scoring a 0-6, 7-5, 6-3 win in an hour and 44 minutes, trailing 6-0, 5-3 before taking ten of the last 13 games to leave Stan empty-handed!
The Swiss needed 20 minutes to deliver the opener and he was on the winning trail in set number two as well, breaking Marco in the opening game and sailing through his service games to serve for the triumph at 5-4. Out of sudden, Cecchinato broke back at love and never looked back, rattling off 16 of the last 19 points in the second set to grab it 7-5 and erasing all four break points in the decider to wrap up the triumph with a break in game six.