Aussies fail to break bank in Monte Carlo

Jordan Thompson, Alexei Popyrin and John Millman all got knocked out of the Monte Carlo Masters as the Australian challenge faded away on a disappointing day.

JORDAN THOMPSON.
JORDAN THOMPSON. Picture: Zak Kaczmarek/Getty Images

Three of Australia's five top men players were in last-32 action in Monte Carlo in the space of three hours - but none of them managed to hit the jackpot after underwhelming outings on the red clay at the celebrated Masters event.

Jordan Thompson was left with the toughest task on Tuesday, trying to tame Italy's mercurial reigning champion Fabio Fognini - but on a morning when he evidently felt all the luck was going against him, the 26-year-old succumbed 6-3 6-3.

The angriest of the trio looked to be Thompson's fellow Sydneysider Alexei Popyrin, who had fought himself into a winning position against French comeback man Lucas Pouille, only to be out-battled in the denouement and go down 7-5 2-6 6-3.

Millman probably had the fewest complaints as he was largely outplayed by Chile's clay court specialist Cristian Garin, the 16th seed who looked in his red dirt element as he raced to a 6-1 6-4 win in one hour 39 minutes.

With the country's No.1 player Alex de Minaur having departed on Tuesday, it marked the end of Australia's challenge at the famed Monte Carlo Country Club.

On the Court des Princes, without a supporter in sight because of the COVID-19 restrictions, Thompson had one of those days when all the breaks - all the net cords, dubious line calls and bad bounces - seemed to go against him.

It didn't help that Fognini, reigning champion from 2019 as last year's event on the Riviera was cancelled, seemed so at home at a venue near to his San Remo birthplace where he's practised regularly since he was 14.

Thompson was out of sorts, spraying around so many unforced errors that at one point in the opening set, he screamed at himself: "Stop playing so dumb!"

His main hope seemed to be a Fognini implosion and there was a moment when the volcanic Italian did get distracted by an argument with the chair umpire over a line call and briefly let the Australian claw back into the set.

Ultimately, though, the 33-year-old champion looked a class above the Australian on his preferred surface and prevailed with 18 delicious winners.

Qualifier Popyrin, fresh from only his second-ever tour-level match victory on clay after a remarkable comeback against Pablo Andujar, again looked poised to carve out a win from a set down against former Australian Open semi-finalist Pouille.

After losing a tight first set, the 21-year-old's fortunes seemed to change after a bizarre incident at the start of the second when the courtside sprinkler jets suddenly exploded into life, saturating the back of the court and forcing a shocked Popyrin to leap away to avoid a soaking.

He went on to win that set with a bit to spare and Pouille, who's fighting back to the top after an elbow injury which he feared might end his career, looked to be tiring as he went 3-1 down in the decider.

In a battle of wills, Popyrin had one break point to go into a potentially decisive 6-5 lead in the third set but the Frenchman held firm before breaking the youngster and prevailing in just over two hours.

Popyrin smashed his racquet in disgust at the end, pondering the win that he felt had got away, but he could reflect on another breakthrough week, with two qualifying victories and one in the main draw, which should see him rise to a career-high ranking of 79 next week.