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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


The ATP European clay court swing continues in Barcelona and Bucharest this week. Barcelona is one of three ATP 500 tournaments played on the red dirt and the draw is headed by top seed and eight time Barcelona winner Rafael Nadal, who won an unprecedented ninth Monte Carlo Masters title yesterday defeating the heroic Gael Monfils 7-5 5-7 6-0 in a thrilling final.

Defending Barcelona champion Kei Nishikori, who also lifted the trophy in 2014, lines up as the second seed this week and will attempt to win his third straight title. Nishikori is playing his first tournament on clay this season and last year became the first none European player to lift the Barcelona trophy twice in the last decade.

The historical statistics bode well for Nadal’s chances of winning an unprecedented ninth Barcelona title this week, as the top seed has won seven of the last ten overall. The second seed has not performed as well at Barcelona over the last decade winning the title only once in this period (2013); they were a losing finalist twice in this period, the last time in 2010, and this does not bode well for Nishikori’s chances of winning or reaching the final this week.

Seeded players in general have a strong record at Barcelona and a player seeded no higher than five has won the last ten titles; a player seeded no higher than 12 was a losing finalist eight times in the last decade however, the last two seasons an unseeded player made the final (Andujar 2015 and Giraldo 2014).

With Nadal back in form and on his beloved red dirt it’s not worth opposing him pre-tournament, so I will look for some value in the bottom half of the draw based on the second seed’s record over the last decade. There are few unseeded players that look capable of reaching the final on current form and with that in mind I will look to the lower seeded players as they’ve got the best record of reaching the final over the last decade. Fourth seed Richard Gasquet at 18/1 has won three clay court titles, including Estoril last year, and has reached four finals during his career.

He has a winning head-to-head record against all of the seeded players in his half of the draw, accept fifth seed Bautista-Agut, who is in second seed Nishikori’s section of the draw. Gasquet has never lost against Nishikori wining all six of their encounters, and with Bautista-Agut drawn to meet Nishikori in the quarter-finals, it makes sense opting for Gasquet at 18/1 this week as Bautista-Agut has lost all four encounters against Nishikori.

Bucharest

Fourth seed this week Garcia-Lopez returns to Bucharest as the defending champion and has every chance of winning back-to-back titles this week judging by the quality of this year’s draw. Bernard Tomic is the top seed this week, has never reached a clay court final and can be overlooked as the top-seed has won only two of the last ten titles (last 2014) and has never been a losing finalist in this period.

Veteran Ivo Karlovic is seeded two this week and is yet to win a match in 2016, losing all six to date. He can also be overlooked as the second seed has only won two of the last ten titles (last 2011) and has never been a losing finalist during this period. Seeded players in general have performed well at Bucharest and a player seeded no higher than five has won eight of the last ten tiles and a player seeded no higher than seven was a losing finalist five times during this period. Unseeded players have also experienced limited success in Bucharest with two winners over the last decade and four losing finalists during this period.

While it’s tempting to go for fourth seed Garcia-Lopez, i’ve decided to go for sixth seed Guido Pella, who is drawn to meet the former at the quarter-final stage. Pella is twice the available odds at 14/1, and has been in good form this year. He made his first ATP Final at Rio de Janeiro on clay where he defeated the likes of top-20 players Isner and Thiem on route and just lost out against two-time ATP title winner this season Cuevas 6-4 6-7 6-4 in the final.

The bottom half of the draw looks very weak, apart from third seed Frederico Delbonis, who won his second ATP title a fortnight ago at Marrakesh. This was Delbonis’s second ATP title after winning Sao Paulo on clay in 2014 and he’s also reached two ATP finals on the surface, at Nice in 2014 and Hamburg in 2013. With a week’s rest, the luxury of a first round bye and such solid form on the surface at this level Delbonis has to be the call at odds of 4/1, as does Pella at 14/1.

From a match betting perspective there are a few first round matches at Bucharest that catch the eye. Kyle Edmunds and Damir Dzumhur are two young stars in good form this season and can be backed in a double at just shy of 17/10. Serb Dusan Lajovic might be underestimated as he’s a solid player at this level and on clay, leads the head-to-head against Lucas Pouille 2-0 and can be backed at 11/8 to progress to the second round.


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