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  • Chris Sobey

Tennis


World number two Andy Murray, who had reached back-to-back Masters Series finals for the first time in five years at Madrid and Rome, gained sweet revenge for his recent Madrid Masters final loss against nemesis Novak Djokovic, by thrashing the world number one 6-3 6-3 in yesterday’s Rome Masters final. Murray romped to the Rome title this week without dropping a set and the win was his 12th title in total at Masters Series level. His emphatic win sends out a clear warning to his rivals on the eve of the French Open and it looks like he’s hitting form just at the right time, especially with Wimbledon and the summer Olympics not far away.

Before the second Grand Slam of the season, the French Open, gets underway at Roland Garros next week, there are two ATP 250 events at Nice and Geneva to focus on. Geneva returns to the ATP tour for the second year running after a lay-off since 1991, while Nice is a relatively new event that re-commenced back in 2010 after a 15 year lay-off. Both tournaments have not been happy hunting grounds for the top-two seeds, which is understandable given the French Open starts a week today, and with this in mind I will not be advising Dominic Thiem and Gilles Simon at Nice or Stan Wawrinka and David Ferrer at Geneva.

Since 2010 all six winners of the Nice title have come from Europe, including defending champion Dominic Thiem, who lines up as the top-seed this year. History is not on Thiem’s side this year however, as the top seed has never won the title or reached the final in the last six renewals since 2010. Second seed veteran Gilles Simon will attempt to win his first ATP clay court title since lifting the trophy at Bucharest back in 2012, but history is not on his side this week either, as the second seed has only won the title once over the last six years (Gulbis 2014) and reached one final in this period (Verdasco 2010).

Seeded players in general have a good record at Nice and a player seeded no higher than seven has made five out of six finals since 2010, including in 2015 when fourth seed Leonardo Mayer lost a nail-biting final against the unseeded Dominic Thiem 6-7 7-5 7-6. With that in mind it’s worth looking for a seeded player outside of the top-two who has a good chance of making the final this week.

From the bottom half of the draw fifth seed Joao Sousa (22/1) has reached three ATP 250 clay court finals during his career, at Geneva and Umag last year and Bastad in 2014. Why he’s chosen to play Nice rather than Geneva again this year is unknown, but his final appearance at Geneva in 2015 does suggest he’ll be 100% focussed this week with ranking points to defend.

He showed good form at the Madrid Masters recently reaching the quarter-finals, where he beat Sock and pushed Nadal close losing 0-6 6-4 6-3. He disappointed at Rome last week (lost to Thiem second round), but the level of competition at Nice this week will be more to his liking, and with the majority of players in the bottom half of the draw either out of form or unproven on clay, he has every chance of reaching his fourth ATP clay court final, as well as adding to his two ATP titles this week.

Unseeded players also have a strong record at Nice reaching five of the last six finals, winning three titles, including last year when Dominic Thiem beat Leonardo Mayer. There is one other qualifier who catches the eye from the bottom half of the draw at a big price, which is Britain’s Kyle Edmunds (50/1). He’s still only 21, improving all the time and clay is proving to be his strongest surface.

He came through qualifying this weekend in impressive fashion and is also on a seven match winning streak having won the Rome challenger on clay last week. He faces a tough opener against eighth seed Alexander Zverev, who he’s never played before, but he’s more than capable of causing an upset on current form, as apart from Munich last month, Zverev has not been that impressive on clay this season.

Edmunds will gain further confidence and belief if he can overcome this early hurdle and while there are no easy matches between the second round and final, his ranking and overall form this year suggests he’s on the verge of making the transition from winning Challenger titles to reaching ATP 250 finals and possibly winning titles at this level this season

Over in Geneva there’s a good chance an unseeded player may spring a surprise from the top-half of the draw and reach Sunday’s final, with Wawrinka out of form and fourth seed John Isner having not played since Houston last month. Carreno-Busta (25/1) has already reached two ATP 250 finals on clay this year at Sao Paulo and Estoril and it could be third time lucky if he repeats that level of form this week, while Andrey Kuznetsov (25/1) has been playing well enough to suggest he could also spring a surprise this week at big odds.

Defending champion Thomaz Bellucci (20/1), who resides in the bottom half of the draw, has won all four of his ATP titles on clay and he clearly likes the conditions in Switzerland, having won here last year and twice at Gstaad back in 2012 and 2009. He has a tricky opener against Kukushkin and a potentially tough second round encounter against sixth seed Delbonis, who he’s won three of the last four encounters against all on clay. If he can make it to the quarter-finals he will have a good chance of reaching consecutive finals, as third seed Cilic has not played since the Miami Masters, or played a competitive match on clay this year, while second seed Ferrer’s form this year suggests he won’t be reaching the final this week.


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