The ATP Tour is now firmly on to the clay court swing with the Monte-Carlo Masters this week. With a throng of stars vying for the ultimate prize, which player will prove to be the value tennis pick?
Novak Djokovic Leads The Field
King of Clay and winner of eight straight Monte-Carlo titles returns to his beloved surface this week at the Principality of Monaco: clay. But the overriding question amongst tennis bettors is whether the Spaniard is still the King of Clay. By the tennis odds, it wouldn't seem to be the case at all. Nadal is priced at +163 to win the title outright, a smidgen behind the form player of the season, World No.1 Novak Djokovic, who leads the field of stars at +125 tennis odds to win his second career Monty title, third Masters titles in a row this season.
This strange outlook on the tennis odds board (strange because it goes against an almost decade long established trend during the clay court swing, in which Nadal has enjoyed perennial favouritism to lap up all titles of note on the red stuff) throws a curve ball into this part of the season. However, it's in tune to Nadal's less than stellar form this season by his lofty standards. Nadal has dropped to fifth in the rankings behind a 15-5 start on the season, highlighted by untimely exits at 2015 Australian Open and struggles at both Indian Wells and Miami.
The Top Half Of The Draw
Although both Djokovic and Nadal are still seen as equal contenders for the 2015 French Open, trading on par at +138 tennis odds to win outright, the decision to downgrade Nadal on the Monte-Carlo odds board is twofold: a direct result of his questionable form this season as well as the draw he's been dealt as the third seed of the tournament (he's moved up two seeds on account of Andy Murray's absence from this event for his nuptials and Kei Nishikori's withdrawal). Because he's fallen into the toughest half – the top half – of the draw, which contains David Ferrer (a potential quarterfinal opponent) and Novak Djokovic (a potential semi-final opponent) his chances of reaching the final, never mind winning a ninth Monty title, are somewhat diminished in the eyes of odds makers and experts alike.
Also contained within Nadal's immediate section (the second quarter of the draw) are several dangerous floaters to spot for your tennis picks. Players that could give Nadal (if given the chance) some trouble, namely Martin Klizan of Slovakia, who looms as a potential R16 opponent. The Slovak is coming off a title win in Casablanca this weekend and must be brimming with confidence. He's also been able to take it to Nadal in the past, which is only going to add to his confidence. Klizan is a long shot tennis pick to win it all at +20000 tennis odds, but that shouldn't deter tennis bettors looking for value upset tennis picks. Another dangerous obstacle Nadal could face is Dominic Thiem, who might emerge earlier in the draw: in the R32. The Austrian young gun is after a stellar run in Miami, reaching the quarterfinals (l. to Murray).
If Nadal survives these threats, his compatriot and on-form David Ferrer (matched at +2200 to win it all) could emerge as a quarterfinal opponent. Last year, Ferrer dumped Nadal in the same round. The way he's playing this year, the veteran is sure to fancy his chances in a rematch. Of course, the draw may not go to plan and a whole host of other opponents could emerge, such as Gilles Simon (+12500 to win it all) or Benoit Paire, to name a few.
If Nadal survives the quarterfinal round, Djokovic is as good as a sure tennis pick to be waiting in the semis. Nadal has the 23-19 head-to-head edge over the Serbian starlet and he won their last meeting (at the 2014 French Open final), but there's a huge gap on form between this pair going into this event. Heck, Djokovic is a country mile ahead of the entire field where form is concerned. Hence, the edge would almost surely go to Djokovic on the tennis betting board.
To be fair, Djokovic's section is no walk in the park. He has Bernard Tomic and Ernests Gulbis (amongst others) in his path to the quarterfinals. At which point he could then face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Goffin, Mikhail Youzhny, Florian Mayer or Marin Cilic (+10000). All these players could challenge Djokovic. Some of these could even beat him on a good day. But it would take lights out tennis from one of these to pull beat the pound-for-pound best player on the ATP Tour right now.
The Bottom Half Of The Draw
In the other half of the draw, Roger Federer, matched at +500 tennis odds (or as the third favourite to win outright on the tennis betting board) leads the charge. He's joined with defending champion Stanislas Wawrinka (+1100), Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic (both at +5000 to win outright) in the bottom half of the draw, amongst other legitimate contenders.
Wawrinka, who emerges as the fourth favourite on +1100 tennis odds board, looms as a potential quarterfinal opponent for Federer. If the Swiss pair comes through, their clash in the last eight will be a scintillating rematch of last year's final, which Wawrinka won to clinch his first ever (and only) Masters crown.
Both Federer and Wawrinka are going to have to do some work before they can reach the last eight in Monte-Carlo. Federer could face Jeremy Chardy (R32) and then either Alexandr Dolgopolov or Gael Monfils (R16) before reaching the quarters. Wawrinka, on the other hand, could face Juan Monaco (R32) and then one of the following: Fabio Fognini, Jerzy Janowicz, Fernando Verdasco or Grigor Dimitrov (R16).
Finally, Berdych and Raonic headline a wide open section of the draw. Indeed, their quarter is there for the taking, with the pair priced on par to emerge as the section's winner. Both come into this event on good form and brimming with confidence.
Berdych's path serves up either up-and-comer Pablo Carreno-Busta or Sergiy Stakhovsky in the R32 and Benjamin Becker, Roberto Bautista-Agut, Mikhail Kukushkin or Philipp Kohlschreiber in the R16. The No.1 Canadian's path, meanwhile, serves up potential R32 opponents in either Edouard Roger-Vasselin or Joao Sousa and potential R16 opponents in Adrian Mannarino, Marcel Granollers, Tommy Robredo or Andreas Seppi.
Tennis betting Verdict
Djokovic, Federer and Nadal have won 72 Masters 1000 titles combined, with Nadal leading the record books with 27 titles since the Masters series began in 1990. Djokovic has claimed 22 titles while Federer has 25 titles. That alone makes a compelling case for this triplet on your tennis picks.
Nadal's eight straight titles in Monte Carlo, one his many record-setting runs in clay tournaments, make a compelling case for his tempting +163 tennis odds to win outright, despite the questions surrounding his form and the fact that he hasn't won here since his impressive run ended two years ago when Djokovic beat him on a blustery Sunday afternoon. It would be an error in judgement not to consider his tennis odds on your tennis picks.
Of course, Djokovic is quite rightly the popular tennis pick at +125 at top-rated Sportsbooks to win another Monty title with a 12-game winning streak coming into this tournament highlighted by back-to-back Masters titles. But the big question where he's concerned is how long can he keep his winning streak going?
Finally, Federer looms as an attractive alternative tennis pick at +500. The Swiss maestro is a four-time finalist in Monte-Carlo, but never a champion. A player of his ilk, quality and calibre, let alone a sure-fire legend, wants to win here more than anybody else for the very reason that it's eluded him all these years. Could it be his year finally to add the Monty title to his trophy cabinet?
Whichever way you slice this tournament, it's most likely going to come down to one of these three standout stars of the game. For our money, we're backing Nadal as our top tennis pick. That said, we wouldn't be surprised if Djokovic and Federer emerged as the finalists this year; already several big titles were contested by this pair this season. So just in case, an each-way bet on Djokovic and Federer to reach the final might be the smarter move for your tennis picks.
Tennis Free Picks: Nadal at +200 at William Hill