Twelve months ago, Kei Nishikori had played for the first Masters 1000 crown against Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo, losing the title match but enjoying a great week overall. World no. 6 will not have the opportunity to repeat that this week, suffering a tough 7-5, 6-4 loss to Pierre-Hugues Herbert in an hour and 42 minutes for the fifth loss in the last seven matches on the Tour!
Kei won their previous two meetings although it wasn't to be for him today, squandering all ten break points he created and getting broken once in the last game of each set to push Pierre-Hugues into the third round, his best result at clay Masters 1000 events.
Carried by his serve and forehand, Herbert finished the match with 31 winners and 25 unforced errors, leaving Kei on a 14-25 ratio and creating a huge difference in the shortest rallies up to four strokes, with the Japanese failing to return 35% of his serves!
The Frenchman repelled four break points at 2-2 and a couple of more at 4-4, staying in touch and breaking Nishikori in game 12 when the Japanese sprayed a backhand error for a 7-5 in 57 minutes. Pierre-Hugues took down three break points at the start of the second set, delivering a big serve to avoid a break in game nine and making a significant move with a break in the game that followed to seal the deal and score one of the most important wins on the slowest surface.
The 10th seed Daniil Medvedev grabbed another impressive triumph, ousting Radu Albot 6-1, 6-2 in 69 minutes for the place in the third round and the 19th win of the season, leaving Roger Federer on 18. Daniil lost serve only once and was all over the Moldovan on the return, taking 60% of the points and securing six breaks from eight opportunities.
The Russian broke in the very first game of the match and clinched another one at 2-0 with an easy winner at the net, closing the opener with the third break of serve in game seven after just 26 minutes. Albot bounced back at the start of the second set but stayed in front only for a couple of minutes, losing serve in game two after a backhand crosscourt winner from Medvedev who was in charge again.
The Russian landed a backhand down the line winner in game four to move ahead following a grueling rally and the win was in his hands when Radu netted a forehand in game seven, setting up the third-round clash against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The Greek earned the 18th win of the season, beating Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3, 7-5 in an hour and 42 minutes for the third time in as many encounters. Stefanos struggled to find the first serve but he did well to limit the damage, suffering only two breaks and taking four on the other side to cross the finish line in straight sets.
They both had 23 unforced errors and the Greek hit more winners, having the upper hand in the mid-range and longer rallies to forge the triumph and kick off his clay season in style. The youngster drew first blood in the eighth game of the match, moving 5-3 up after a forehand error from Mikhail and cementing the opener with a hold in the next game for a 6-3.
They traded four breaks in the second set to stay locked up at 4-4, with Mikhail saving three break points in game nine to remain on the positive side of the scoreboard. Still, Stefanos found the way to break him with a backhand down the line winner at 5-5, getting over the top with a hold in the next game for the place in the last 16.
The 13th seed Fabio Fognini was on the verge of defeat against Andrey Rublev in the opening round and he is now through to round three after a withdrawal from Gilles Simon who defeated Alexei Popyrin yesterday but had to cancel the tournament with a back injury.