The Monte Carlo Masters gets underway this week as the best players in the world look to hone their preparation for the upcoming 2013 French Open.
One of the premier clay events in the lead-up to the Grand Slam, the Monte Carlo Masters usually sees plenty of great action take place, and with plenty of big storylines heading into the event this year in Monaco, 2013 is shaping as no different.
The eyes of the world will likely be on the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, but there are a number of other dark-horse players who are worth watching this year—many of whom should make strong runs into the latter stages of the tournament.
Read on to see which dark-horse players you should keep an eye on here.
Kevin Anderson, World No. 26
Kevin Anderson boasts a very strong service game and hitting skills, and whilst those don't necessarily translate that well on to clay courts, the South African is quickly becoming an exception to that rule.
Anderson has been in magnificent form this year (17-6 record), having made the quarterfinals in four of his six tournaments entered, and will look to continue that here.
Which, with a favorable draw and a solid clay-court form behind him, he could well do.
The 26-year-old was one of the tour leaders last year in service games won on clay courts, and also boasted a very strong aces-per match record.
Combine that with his ability to play very well on break points (saving a staggering 70 percent), he'll definitely be a big threat to the top stars at Monaco this year.
Anderson has got a favorable draw, with no players inside the top six in the world falling in his path until the quarterfinals, and even then, he would face Tomas Berdych—not one of the Big Four. As a result, definitely keep an eye out for an Anderson run this year.
Roberto Bautista Agut, World No. 59
Roberto Bautista Agut certainly won't have attracted any notoriety coming into the Monte Carlo Masters this year, but that no doubt changed after he knocked out No. 11 seed Giles Simon in the opening round (in straight sets nonetheless).
The 25-year-old hasn't really played a great deal of matches in his career, but showed great promise throughout last year with his clean hitting. And on clay courts, the Spaniard could well find himself in his element against some of the best players in the world—giving him a huge chance to upset many more stars throughout the remainder of the tournament.
Agut won a staggering 45 percent of break points he saw on clay courts last year, and could well challenge in Monaco this year as a result of that.
Having knocked Simon out, the draw does open up a bit for him now, with Janko Tipsarevic (round of 16) and Nadal (quarterfinals) looming as the big threats.
Still, a bit of confidence and Agut could get on a roll in Monaco.
Milos Raonic, World No. 15
Perhaps the World No. 15 isn't that much of a dark horse, but given the fact that this is, A) a clay-court tournament and, B) Raonic has just played an intense few matches for the Davis Cup, it's certainly OK to consider the Canadian more of an outside threat coming into this one.
Yet he still definitely is a threat.
Raonic boasts arguably the most dominant serve on tour, and not even the clay court surfaces were able to stop it from being as deadly in 2012.
He led the tour in aces-per-match and ranked in the top three for first serve won, second serve won, break points saved and total services games won.
Yet this year, Raonic has started to develop his game to being more than just a big serve, and the clay courts here should allow him that extra bit of time to make his shots. He pushed both Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga earlier in the year on hard courts, and with more time on his hands now, could well make some big shots at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Raonic has a tough draw with the likes of Alexandr Dolgopolov, Juan Martin Del Potro, John Isner and Novak Djokovic all looming as potential challengers before the semifinals. Yet if Raonic gets on a roll, look out for him to potentially make a big run in the tournament this year.
Hit me up on Twitter for more sports goodness: Follow @dantalintyre
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!