Fifteen of the top sixteen seeds have advanced to the Round of 16 at the Monte Carlo Masters—the lone holdout was Ernests Gulbis, who bowed out winning just one game against Andreas Haider-Maurer—setting up a slate of blockbuster matches on Thursday.
First up on Court Central is No. 7 seed and defending champion Stan Wawrinka against No. 9 seed Grigor Dimitrov. Both men have been slumping over the last month—after winning in Rotterdam, Wawrinka has only won two matches in three tournaments, while Dimitrov has failed to win back-to-back matches in his last four tournaments since the Australian Open.
Second on Court Central is Roger Federer vs. Gael Monfils. The Frenchman bested Alexandr Dolgopolov in an entertaining third round encounter 7–6 (5), 7–6 (6) and will look to replicate his win over Federer, also on clay, in last year's Davis Cup final. There, in one of the best performances of his career, Monfils blew past Federer 6–1, 6–4, 6–3.
"He has capacities that other players don't have, physically, also because of his power on the forehand and the backhand," Federer said. It is a real challenge to play him. Often the problem is not on your own racquet against him."
Especially when he's shaking and baking like he did against Dolgopolov:
Rafael Nadal and John Isner are third in the lineup on Court Central. This is a tricky test for Nadal, who is 4-0 against Isner. This is their first meeting since the 2013 Cincinnati Masters, where Nadal won 7–6 (8), 7–6 (3) in the final. Nadal won his opening match easily against Lucas Pouille in Monte Carlo, saying afterwards it was his best performance of the year.
"Today, I played with no mistakes in a row," Nadal said. "I played aggressively when I had to play aggressive. I hit some good passing shots than [in] the past couple of months. [It is] a thing that I haven't been doing very well. I will go back to the hotel with [a] fantastic feeling, because I played probably the best match of the year for me."
Nadal is playing with a new Babolat record in Monte Carlo, after deciding to make the switch while training back in Mallorca after Miami. ''With this new racket, I have less control,'' Nadal said. ''Not today. In theory I have less control. In theory I have more power and more spin.''
Isner is coming off a very disappointing opening round loss to Teymuraz Gabashvili in Houston last week. He's rebounded with two solid wins this week, beating Steve Johnson 6-4, 6-4 and Viktor Troicki 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5). “I play the greatest clay-court player of all time tomorrow,“ Isner said. “It's going to be a big challenge for me. It's going to be a lot of fun. I've played him once before on clay, at Roland Garros, and I took him to five sets. I know I have a game that can disrupt him. It's going to very tough, but I'm going to go out there and have fun.“
Last on Court Central will be No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Haider-Maurer, who have never played against each other in their careers.
The remaining four matches will be played out on Monte Carlo's Court Des Princes. No. 4 seed Milos Raonic plays 16th seed Tommy Robredo, followed by No. 6 seed Tomas Berdych against No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut, followed by No. 8 seed Marin Cilic plays Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Lastly, in what should be the most physically grueling match of the day, No. 5 seed David Ferrer faces off against No. 10 seed Gilles Simon.
GALLERY: EVOLUTION OF FASHION: RAFAEL NADAL (FULL SIZE)