April 16th will mark the beginning of the 120th edition of the Monte Carlo Masters. This was the tournament where Rafael Nadal announced his arrival on the big stage by winning his first ever Masters title. 12 years after his first title, the King of Clay aims a record tenth title at Monte Carlo.
Way back in 1896, the Monte Carlo Masters was not such a reputed tournament as it is today. The tournament was not held in Monaco in the beginning. It was held in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. This was a small town in France and so the tennis courts and the facilities had to be hired from the French Republic. George Whiteside Hillyard became the first ever man to win the tournament in 1896.
Later, American philanthropist, George Butler established the Monte Carlo Country Club. The tournament gained popularity over the years with every year witnessing new entrants and a gradual increase in the size of the draw. In 1969 it became an Open era from an amateur tournament. It holds the status of being the oldest tennis tournament in Europe.
The tournament was a part of various tours that governed the circuit. In 1970-72 and 1978-89, it was a part of the Grand Prix circuit. In 1973 it was a part of the Rothmans Spring Mediterranean Circuit. From 1974 to 1977, the tournament was a part of the World Championship Tennis. It later on finally gained the status of being an ATP 1000 tournament when the ATP World Tour circuit was fabricated.
Most of the winners have been Europeans. Only Andrei Chesnokov, a Russian won the competition in 1990. But in the 1981 finals between Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Villas, the match ended up in a draw. On the day of the finals, at 5-5, a heavy rain stopped play. The organizers could never replay the match on another day and the match was declared a tie.
Player commitment is not a compulsion in Monte Carlo Masters and yet top players elect to play the tournament. An exceptional case of Ivan Lendl is notable in this case. The players are given some tournaments which they compulsorily have to play as the ATP tells them. Lendl had not played the Monte Carlo Masters tournaments and he was forced to play the 1985 edition or else a heavy fine was for the asking. Lendl had just played two hard court tournaments and won them. He entered the 1985 edition and won his third consecutive title, this time on clay.
Today, 9000 spectators see the tournament live and more than 66 countries are able to enjoy its live broadcast. As of 2016, the prize money for the winner is 37,48,926 Euros. The winner gets the prize from one of the families of the ruling family. The return of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic from their injuries, Nadal gunning for the tenth crown and Stan Wawrinka and the young guns trying to breakthrough, the 2017 Monte Carlo Masters seems to be a promising one.