Vina del Mar 2013
When Rafa Nadal steps out on court for his opening singles match of the week this Wednesday in Chile's, Vina del Mar, it will have been almost eight months since we last saw the Spaniard hitting a competitive ball.
At the time, Rafa's defeat against one of the biggest underdogs in history, Lukas Rosol appeared to be nothing more than a big cash-in day for the tennis bookmakers. However, it soon became apparent that the current world no.4 was suffering with an injury which would keep him away from the game for far longer than anybody imagined.
Having failed to defend his Olympic title, as well as missing the US Open and Australian Open; the big question is whether Rafa will ever get back to his best, and more importantly for anybody looking to back him; can he do it this week in Chile?
Rafa himself has gone on the record to say that he doesn't expect to be playing anywhere near his best tennis for at least a couple of months. Those kind of timescales do appear to fit in nicely with the clay court season and another assault on the French Open in May, but playing in a field where his closest ranked rival is current world no.12, Juan Monaco, can Rafa actually go all the way this week?
Rafa's Chances in Chile
Ok, so this is a clay court tournament and Rafa Nadal is playing. It's a forgone conclusion, right?
Well, not for me. In fact, I cannot believe that the bookies have Nadal priced up as the 4/7 favourite to win this one.
The man himself has said he'll be taking things slowly and accepts he won't be at his best anytime soon. Apart from the fact that any event success takes amounts of effort and energy which I don't believe Rafa will be willing to expend so soon in his comeback, you also have to question if it would even do him any good to be raising expectations by winning his comeback tournament.
I think Rafa's staus as the big favourite to win this week could actually have created the perfect tennis betting opportunity in that the value on other men winning has been vastly increased.
So who else could win?
Well, we've already mentioned him but Argentina's Juan Monaco comes into this event as the second favourite and at 5/1 with the bookies I rate him as the best betting value on tour this week.
Monaco is not only the defending champion, he has also reached the final of this event on three occasions.
Should Monaco make the final again this week, I wouldn't expect him to be facing Rafa Nadal, however, even if that were the case, the current world no.12 should have enough in the tank to overcome the Spaniard.
There are one or two other names worth keeping any eye on too.
Carlos Berlocq was runner-up here last year and can be backed at a mightily impressive 50/1 to go one step further this time around. At those betting odds, an each-way bet would bring up some great value if the 30-year-old Argentinean can repeat what he did last year.
And it's not only about the Argentineans.
Spaniard Tommy Robredo may be into his 30s now but he won this event in 2011 and is another dangerous player in the draw, who loves the clay and comes with some incredible each-way value, at 66/1.
I just can't see it for Rafa this week and I'm unconvinced that it's even something he completely wants to win.
My tennis pick would be Juan Monaco to successfully defend his title, but Berlocq and Robredo are well worth keeping a close eye on too.
Juan Monaco - 5/1 - PaddyPower
Carlos Berlocq - 50/1 - each-way - 50/1 - StanJames
Tommy Robredo - 66/1 - each way - PaddyPower