Djokovic, Wawrinka Launch Tournament

The Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, the third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament of 2015, gets underway Sunday with a bevy of stars fighting for the clay crown.

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have combined to win 72 Masters 1000 titles, lead the outstanding field. There are 16 of the Top 20 in the Emirates ATP Rankings in the draw, including eight of the Top 10.

Four-time finalist Federer and defending champion Stan Wawrinka lie in the same quarter of the bottom half, setting the stage for a potential rematch of last year’s championship match in the final eight. But first, Wawrinka may potentially need to top Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.

“Last year was really special for me, it was my first Masters 1000,” said Wawrinka. “Beating Roger in the final, [it] was an amazing week, so I’m really happy to be back in the tournament. It’s a special tournament and I think all the players enjoy playing here.”

2013 champion Djokovic is looking to become the first player to win the first three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles of the season as he lies in the same half as eight-time champion Nadal. A potential quarter-final against No. 8 seed Marin Cilic looms for the World No. 1, while the Spaniard could clash with compatriot and fifth seed David Ferrer in his quarter-final.

“It’s always exciting to play a tournament in the place where you spend most of your time when you’re not in the tournaments,” said Djokovic, who has lived in Monaco for almost eight years. “It’s a bike ride or a walk to the tennis club from my home, so it really is a special feeling.

“After the great run that I had in Indian wells and Miami, I couldn’t ask for a better start to the season, and hopefully I will be able to turn that confidence from the first three or four months of the year into this week. It takes time to adjust as any other switch from different surfaces. I think the key point is movement, to really get your muscles used to harder, more demanding physical work.”

Fourth seed and Monaco resident Milos Raonic, who achieved his best showing at this tournament last year by reaching the quarter-finals (l. to Wawrinka), may meet sixth seed Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals. The Czech reached the semi-finals in 2007 and 2012 (l. to Nadal and Djokovic, respectively).

There are plenty of intriguing matchups to keep an eye on in the first round.

Ninth seed Dimitrov opens his Monte-Carlo campaign against 2010 finalist Fernando Verdasco. The player to prevail advances to a second-round clash against the winner of Fabio Fognini and Jerzy Janowicz.

No. 11 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, a semi-finalist here in 2014 (l. to Nadal), will face Houston semi-finalist Sam Querrey in the first round.

Mikhail Youzhny will meet Florian Mayer in the first round as the German makes his return to the tour, having been sidelined since March 2014 due to a lingering groin injury. US Open champion Cilic awaits the winner in the second round.

Young guns start the third Masters 1000 tournament of the year with their own blockbuster matches: Borna Coric makes his Monte-Carlo debut against Alexandr Dolgopolov, Pablo Carreno Busta faces Sergiy Stakhovsky, Jiri Vesely clashes against Juan Monaco and Dominic Thiem takes on Lucas Pouille, with the winner to face World No. 5 Nadal.

No. 15 seed John Isner faces fellow American Steve Johnson in his opener, with a second-round clash against the winner of Viktor Troicki and Martin Klizan looming.

Main draw play kicks of on Sunday, 12 April.

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