Tsitsipas Ruud MC Final

It was a dream semifinal day in Monte Carlo. The sky was clear, the sun was bright, the stands were full, the boats were drifting in the Mediterranean, and the top two male players in the world, Jannik Sinner and Novak Djokovic, were in action. Zendaya was even in the house, for an extra touch of glam.

The only trouble, if you were unlucky enough to have to watch the matches on TV instead of live, was that the light was so bright, you couldn’t see the ball. At times Sinner and his opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, looked like they were playing the most intense shadow-tennis match of all time.

But the real tennis didn’t disappoint. Both semis—Sinner vs. Tsitsipas, and Djokovic vs. Casper Ruud—went three sets. Both were back-and-forth affairs where the higher seed lost the first and fought back, to the crowd’s excitement, to claim the second. Both matches showed off the athleticism and all-court entertainment value of modern tennis on clay.

What used to be a surface of monotonous rallies and matches of attrition has gradually become the best showcase for today’s variety. Drop shots, lobs, volleys, angles, passes: All of them are more common on clay than anywhere else, and all four players made broad use of their shot-making repertoire.

Then something surprising happened: The two players who were supposed to set up an epic 1-2 Sunday final, Sinner and Djokovic, ended up losing just when they seemed to destined to win.

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Sinner dropped the first set to Tsitsipas, then won the second 6-3 and brought the crowd, which was dotted with pro-Sinner carrot suits and orange wigs, to its feet. That wave of energy launched him to an early lead in the third, too. Sinner finally had control of the rallies, and Tsitsipas was hanging on for dear life in his service games.

But with the match seemingly in hand at 4-2, Sinner called the trainer for a leg issue. It turned out to be cramps, and they turned out to be too much for him to overcome. He lost the last four games and the match. After the final point, Tsitsipas dropped to the dirt as if he had just won Wimbledon. Whether his opponent cramped or not, the two-time champion was overjoyed to reach his first final of 2024, in a week that has rejuvenated his season.

Afterward, Sinner seemed to attribute his cramps in part to a bad call he received when he had a break point to go up 4-1 in the third.

“It’s a tough one to swallow, because I was playing at some point great tennis,” he said. “Tactically, everything went in the right direction.”

“Having cramps, it’s a consequence of most likely of this [call], you know, because it also goes in the nervous side of the brain. And then after, it’s not easy to play.”

The second semi, between Djokovic and Ruud, unfolded in similar fashion. Ruud began by winning his first set in 12 tries against Djokovic.  By the middle of the second set, Djokovic was staggering in the heat. He huffed, he puffed, he wrapped an ice towel around his head, and he told a noisy crowd member to “Shut the [expletive deleted] up.”

Not for the first time, though, the heavier Djokovic breathed, the better he played. He won the second set 6-1, and then came back from a break down in the third to knot it at 4-4. But that was as far as he could push himself. Ruud broke for the match, and completed his first-ever win over a member of the Big 3.


The two players who were supposed to set up an epic 1-2 Sunday final, Sinner and Djokovic, ended up losing just when they seemed to destined to win.

The two players who were supposed to set up an epic 1-2 Sunday final, Sinner and Djokovic, ended up losing just when they seemed to destined to win.

“My game was kind of up and down,” Djokovic said. “The positive thing is that I kind of managed to come back after losing the first set, and really find the strength in the game.”

The Djokovic vs. Sinner finale was not to be. But I don’t think it means there’s a reason to worry about either player. Each was playing his first event of the clay swing, and each got the matches he was looking for on the surface. Each lost to an opponent who has been a finalist at Roland Garros. And each rebounded from a slow start and gave himself a chance to win. Sinner’s cramps aside, each walks away healthy from Monte Carlo, with two more Masters 1000s to play on clay before they get to Paris.

The Sunday crowd in Monte Carlo will be left with Tsitsipas vs. Ruud. A comedown, certainly, but these are two guys who, as noted above, have challenged for the crown at Roland Garros recently. They’ve seen their rankings slip a bit, and neither has won a tournament this season—though Ruud has reached two finals.

Ruud leads their head to head 2-1 overall, and 1-0 on clay. He has been striking the ball extremely well this week, but could he have a letdown after getting such a cathartic win? It will also be his first final in Monte Carlo, where Tsitsipas is a two-time champion.

However the final turns out, the wins by Ruud and Tsitsipas on Saturday will make this clay season a little less predictable, and the list of title contenders in Paris a little bit longer.