The ATP Tour descends on the eternal city for the fifth Masters event on the calendar and the last stop for most of the big names in the game on the road to Roland Garros that gets underway in a fortnight. Will Monty champion Novak Djokovic or Madrid champion Rafael Nadal clinch Rome and emerge as the true favourite for the French Open? Or could another champion emerge?
These are all heady questions indeed that surely will be answered this coming week. Let's look at the current draw and decide which players might hold the best value for our tennis picks.
Djokovic draws Nadal
Top seed Novak Djokovic and defending champion Rafael Nadal have fallen into the same half of the draw, which means the pair could collide in the semis. Add to the mix an in-form Stanislas Wawrinka, big-hitting Tomas Berdych and a serious clay-court threat in David Ferrer and this section is loaded with talent and depth.
Last week, Djokovic was dumped unceremoniously in his opening match against Grigor Dimitrov. No such luck for tennis fans here alas. The chance of that happening when he opens his campaign against a qualifier in Albert Ramos is slim to none. However, the tennis gods haven’t exactly been kind to Djokovic by throwing both Wawrinka and Berdych into his quarter. So for those inclined to go against Djokovic, tipped at tennis odds of 11/4 to win outright at Ladbrokes, best to wait for either of these matchups to emerge.
A Djokovic vs. Wawrinka billing is slated to emerge in the R16. It would be a blockbuster matchup on paper and especially if it lives up to their Australian Open R16 clash that went the distance and in which Djokovic prevailed 12-10 in the fifth and deciding set. Keep in mind however that Wawrinka (at 50/1 betting odds) has played a lot of tennis in the last two weeks while claiming the title in Portugal and finishing runner-up in Madrid. He could be knackered by the time he makes his date with Djokovic. On the other hand, Djokovic will be fresh as a daisy. Same could be said of Berdych (listed at 33/1 to win outright) who has Denis Istomin and Kevin Anderson in his way before he could potentially challenge Djokovic in the quarters. How much gas would he have left in the tank?
For the second time in as many weeks, Nadal has drawn Ferrer as a potential quarterfinal challenge – a matchup that could have far reaching consequences for the French Open where seeding is concerned. Hot favourite at 8/11 at Ladbrokes to win the tournament, Nadal’s section at first glance appears to be a cakewalk. It’s anything but. Several unassuming dangerous floaters are in his frame, including the orchestrator of his last year’s Wimbledon upset Lukas Rosol in the R16, who enters the Rome draw as a lucky loser (replacing Janko Tipsarevic).
While Nadal would love to have his revenge,
he has home favourite Fabio Fognini (150/1) to contend with first. Home support
and a measure of clay-court prowess (he was a semi-finalist in Monty) make
Fognini a tough opening act in his title defence campaign in Rome. Besides
Rosol needs to overcome both Troicki and Gulbis (80/1) to earn a date with
Nadal, something that is unlikely given Rosol hasn’t struck an audible chord
Federer and Murray drawn together
Right now Federer and Murray have to be enjoying the view. No Nadal. No Djokovic in their way until the final and then it would only be one or the other. Why the tennis gods must be smiling on them. Best case scenario of course would be that neither emerges. But that smacks of wishful thinking at this early vantage point.
Federer, on offers of 12/1 at Ladbrokes to win outright, has a lot to prove. Many questions hang over the maestro following a rather disappointing start to his season; he has yet to win a title let alone reach a final and last week, he was dumped by one of the ATP’s bright, up-coming stars Kei Nishikori. Still, the opportunity for a Fed-redemption exists in Rome.
While fate decreed Federer avoid the two best clay-court players in today’s game, his draw is riddled with threats namely in an in-from Tommy Haas or Gilles Simon in the third round and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or giant-slayer Grigor Dimitrov in the quarterfinal – at betting odds of 40/1 and 50/1, respectively. Anyone of these players could prove to be a stumbling block for Federer given his lack of form going into Rome.
Like Federer, Murray’s draw is favourable on paper. Unlike Federer, clay is not exactly Murray’s thing. The upshot of which is that any round could be worrisome where the No.1 Brit is concerned. Players like Marcel Granollers, Feliciano Lopez, Jeremy Chardy or Kei Nishikori may not strike fear in him on a hard court. On the red stuff they would because they have the surface edge over him. Throw in a confident Nicolas Almagro or a dangerous Juan Martin Del Potro into the mix and Murray’s stay in Rome could be short lived. Murray is trading at 14/1 at Ladbrokes to win the Rome title.
Tennis Betting Verdict: Last week’s Madrid Open was riddled with upsets and so it follows that Rome would deliver a few of its own. The Federer-Murray half seems to be the shakiest what with Federer lacking form and Murray’s obvious shortfalls on clay. Watch out for both in their early matchups. Upset alerts in the other half involve Wawrinka and Berdych in their respective opening round matches simply by virtue of all the tennis they’ve played. Finally, Nadal’s frame could be interesting as well with Fognini and Gulbis or Rosol on the path to the quarterfinals, not to mention potentially Ferrer in the quarters although given his momentum he should survive all those scares.Tennis Free Picks: Nadal over Djokovic and Tsonga over Del Potro; Nadal over Tsonga in the final.