• Chris Sobey


This week’s ATP action is the final ATP Masters 1000 Series clay court event of the season at Rome, which gets underway today with a handful of first round matches. World number two Nadal and former world number one Djokovic have dominated the event over the last decade winning four titles each (Nadal seven in total between 2005 and 2013), but this dominance was ended, first by Murray in 2016 and next by the current top NextGen star Sasha Zverev at the 2017 event, when he beat Djokovic to land his first Masters 1000 Series title.

Until last year the top two seeds had dominated most of finals and titles and while the top seed has only won two of the last ten titles (last Nadal 2015), they lost four finals during this period (last Djokovic 2016). The second seed has won four of the last ten titles (last Murray 2016) and they were a losing finalist twice during this period (last Djokovic 2017). Seeded players in general have dominated the tournament over the last decade; a player seeded no higher than sixteen won the last ten titles and a player seeded no higher than 13 was a losing finalist nine times during this period, while there has only been one unseeded player reach the final over the last decade way back in 2008.

The top half of the draw features seventh-time Rome champion Nadal as the top-seed and there could be a repeat of the Madrid quarter-final between Nadal and sixth seed Thiem this week as both are drawn in the top-half first quarter. This section includes experienced veterans, like twelfth seed Querrey, fifth-teenth seed Berdych, unseeded veterans like Fognini and Monfils and Madrid semi-finalist (at time of writing) and NextGen star Shapovalov, the second quarter of the top-half of the draw includes the at times frustrating and disappointing this seed Dimitrov, Madrid quarter finalist and eight seed Isner,9 the out of form, thirteenth seed Sock and the unseeded Djokovic, who still looks way short of his best.

From an outright top-half of the draw betting perspective I’m going to follow 2017 semi-finalist and eighth seed Isner (66/1) again this week as he’s in form, he played well at Madrid last week, which will hopefully provide him with the momentum and confidence to go one better than 2017 and at least make the final this week.

The bottom half of the draw is headed by second seed and 2017 winner Sasha Zverev, who at the time of writing was due to play in the semi-finals at the Madrid Masters 1000 Series. If Zverev goes on to win Madrid it will be his third Masters 1000 Series title and the first-time he has won back-to-back titles during his fledging career. Zverev winning Munich the week before, put me off advising him at Madrid last week, and while anything is possible where the men’s elite players are concerned I’m not sure he’s capable of winning three clay court titles in a row, including back-to-back Masters 1000 Series, but he’s starting to hit top-form again and on that basis alone he’s capable of doing it.

Fifth seed Del Potro resides in Zverev’s quarter of the bottom half of the draw, along with ninth seed Goffin, sixteenth seed Pouille, and unseeded but talented players like Madrid quarter finalist Edmunds, Coric who has really impressed so far in 2018, and veteran Cuevas who is talented enough to put a good run together this week. Seventh seed and Madrid quarter finalist Anderson looked in good shape at Madrid last week, but he resides in a tough Third Quarter of the draw with the likes of fourth seed Cilic, who has not looked 100% fir since reaching the Australian Open final due to a knee injury, tenth seed Carreno-Busta, who apart from losing to Coric in his opening match at Madrid last week has been playing well, reaching three semi-finals in a row at Miami, Barcelona and Estoril.

Fourteenth seed Schwartzman seemed to show better from at Madrid last week and is a tricky opponent on any surface, veteran Gasquet has been playing well of late and could be a dark horse but given the poor record of unseeded players at Rome over the last decade, I don’t see him reaching the final or winning his first Masters 1000 Series title this week, but he’s more than capable of winning three to four matches this week. Three-time Grand Slam winner Wawrinka returns to the ATP Tour this week after a long injury lay-off and he resides in the third quarter of the bottom half the draw and while it would be good to see him win a few matches this week, it’s unlikely given the time he’s been away from playing competitive tennis at this level on clay.

From an outright betting perspective for the bottom half of the draw I’m going to go with two-time Rome quarter-finalist and fifth seed Del Potro (20/1), as he warmed up well with a good run at Madrid last week and should be sharper and match tougher for that experience. He has good form on clay overall having won five ATP Tour titles on the surface, and if he can stay fit and healthy he is more than capable of winning a Masters 1000 title as well. Finally, I’m going to take chance on the usually consistent and tenth seed Carreno-Busta (66/1), who apart from losing to Coric at Madrid last week, which is no shame, came within one match of reaching the finals of his three previous tournaments, one of which included the Miami Masters 1000 Series.

From a first round match betting perspective I think it’s worth opposing favourite Haase against the talented young Russian Medvedev, who leads the head-to-head 2-0. Also, Wawrinka is worth opposing against the experienced a match tough Steve as this is Wawrinka’s first competitive match since returning from a long injury lay-off.



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