ATP Rome: Choose Stan to challenge Rafa dominance

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TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) has been in fabulous form since signing up with WLB. Here, he takes a look at this week’s Rome Open.

ATP Rome | 15th-21s May 2017

Rafa Nadal has yet to lose a match on clay this season and the King of Clay is once again sitting on his throne after a couple of difficult seasons.

Nadal has lifted titles in Madrid, Monte Carlo and Barcelona and with several top level opponents struggling it seems likely that the Spaniard’s dominance will continue in Rome. You are lucky to find Rafa priced at over evens to win outright this week.

Andy Murray was my pick for WeLoveBetting last week but he was very disappointing in a heavy defeat to Borna Coric, who actually lost in qualifying and only made it into the main draw after other player’s withdrew through injury.

Whilst things are going bad for Murray, who celebrates a milestone 30th birthday on Monday, he will be boosted by the return of his inspirational coach Ivan Lendl. Murray is defending champion in Rome, but that result is an outlier from his longer-term record and overall he tends to struggle in the Italian capital.

The player who took the initiative more than any other on the clay during Nadal’s lean years is Novak Djokovic. The Serb has great course form making the final in four of the past five years, winning twice.

However, a study of Djokovic’s performance stats this season shows a player that is unrecognisable from recent years. If Djokovic fails to lift his form his ranking will drop significantly in the coming weeks with the defence of 2000 ranking points at Roland Garros appearing more and more likely to be a unlikely event.

Taking a look at the draw quarter-by-quarter, is there any betting value to be found?

Quarter 1

Birthday boy Andy Murray heads the draw but the magnitude of his underperformance last week coupled with his consistently poor recent results encourages me to look elsewhere for a play in Rome.

Fabio Fognini has the potential to make a deep run when he is in the mood and whilst he has never found that level in his home country it is not to say that he is incapable of finding some magic at a Masters event as he did very recently in Miami.

Fognini bettered Murray at home in a Davis Cup match a couple of seasons ago and unless Murray can pull some form out of his hat, it could be an early exit again for the Scot.

The in form Alex Zverev has played a lot of tennis in the past four weeks, and whilst that is testament to his strong form it isn’t easy to keep that up and it’s unlikely he goes deep yet again.

Tomas Berdych is slowly sliding down the rankings as his playing level naturally declines and having watched him struggle to overcome the clay-averse Mischa Zverev on Monday, he won’t be making an impact in Rome.

The second highest seed in this quarter is Milos Raonic, and the big serving Canadian has made the last eight twice in the past three years. There are question marks over Raonic’s fitness but without strong competition in front of him, it is possible to see him into the quarter final.

At a meaty 13/2 with Bet365 to win Quarter 1 there is value in Raonic winning the three matches required to reach the semis.

Quarter 2

The second quarter hosts the two most intriguing outright selections this week in 3rd seeded Stan Wawrinka, and 9th seeded David Goffin.

Wawrinka is a player that does not follow any form guidelines. He is hot and cold, and after several cold weeks it is possible that he finds his A-game close to the second Grand Slam of 2017.

The Masters record of the Swiss on clay is telling. In nine of his past eleven events as a seed in clay court events at Masters level, Wawrinka has lost early but the other two times he has gone further.

As the third seed Wawrinka could be expected to make the semis. Wawrinka has played less matches to date during the clay swing than would be expected and there is a reasonable chance he is hungry for it this week. Given the weak top half, Wawrinka should fancy his route to the final.

As for Goffin, he plays this event consistently well and his week to week form is strong. However, he has a lot of tennis in his legs this season and I don’t fancy him to continue his tournament level this week. On Monday he was a set and a break down to the dangerous Thomaz Bellucci, and was fortunate to get through.

Beyond the two obvious names there is not much to fancy in this quarter. Marin Cilic is the tournament’s 6th seed and whilst he is playing well on clay so far, he does have a ceiling on this surface and can lose regularly as a favourite. It is best to stay away.

Benoit Paire is another with the ability to have a deep run at an elite event, and did so in Rome back in 2014. The Frenchman went deep last week before losing his head against Pablo Cuevas, and has played a tournament in every one of the last 8 weeks and I don’t expect him to continue his rich vein of form.

Quarter 3

It looks likely to be the third consecutive tournament where the tour’s form clay players will meet. Rafa Nadal and Dominic Thiem have contested finals in Barcelona and Madrid, and with both holding high seedings this week the chance is they will meet again in the quarter finals. Unfortunately for Thiem, Nadal has so far had his number.

Rafa’s draw looks particularly soft, and even though it is very rare for a player to maintain such a high level during the clay swing, there does not appear to be any obvious challenger to Nadal within this quarter, and he will likely keep it going.

Quarter 4

Even though Novak Djokovic looks a long way short of his recognisable best, it still takes a strong player to dispatch him.

One such player could be Nick Kyrgios – who I tipped to come through his quarter in Madrid last week, but he admitted that he didn’t fancy it and tanked his match with Nadal. Furthermore, Kyrgios seems to be carrying a couple of injury issues and withdrew from the doubles semifinal in Madrid.

It is hard to gauge the motivations of Kyrgios, who has toppled Djokovic twice this season. I learned my lesson last week and will look away from Kyrgios for now.

Kei Nishikori made the quarterfinal in Madrid last week despite nursing a wrist injury. The Japanese player withdrew prior to a match against Djokovic last week, and suggested that he didn’t fancy exacerbating his issue then. Given he is drawn again to meet Djokovic in the quarter-finals the chances are that he withdraws again before that meeting, if not before.

It is unfortunate that Djokovic has landed again in a draw lacking in quality players that can take him on, as he should be opposed at all costs.

Best Bets

ATP Rome – Fabio Fognini to win Quarter 1 (17/2 Bet365)

ATP Rome – Milan Raonic to win Quarter 1 (11/2 Bet365)

ATP Rome – Stan Wawrinka outright each-way (14/1 William Hill)

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