TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) has been in fabulous form since signing up with WLB. Here, he takes a look at this week's Madrid Open.
ATP Madrid | 8th-14th May 2017
It is fair to say that it has been anything but easy for Andy Murray since capturing the world number one ranking at the tail end of 2016. An underwhelming start to the 2017 season combined with one injury after another have stopped the Scot from a smooth honeymoon period as the best player on the planet.
Murray found his feet in Barcelona by making the semi-final but it was apparent in his defeat to Dominic Thiem that his game is a work in progress. Roll on two weeks and Murray has had the opportunity to iron out his clay court game, and will be heartened by arriving in Madrid – a tournament where he has made back-to-back finals.
Madrid is significant for the fact that a moderate altitude level exists, and as such quality servers tend to enjoy the conditions, a point made by the ATP tour’s form player Rafael Nadal. The King of Clay said of Madrid, “The serve is – depending on which tournament, it’s not so decisive, but in this tournament it is. Whoever serves well here is going to do well.”
As for Nadal he comes into Madrid with a stellar record, and great recent form. Understandably he is the bookies choice to win this week at a shade over evens.
Madrid is a “Masters 1000” event that draws in the top ranked tennis players in the world who hope to bring home 1000 ranking points. Of the other top players Roger Federer continues his clay court avoidance, whilst Novak Djokovic seems to be in the midst of a mid-career crisis having taken the bold step of ending his long-term coaching relationship with Marian Vajda, a man that can take credit for much of the Serb’s recent dominance.
Djokovic is the reigning champion, as he was prior to the start of most events played this year, but with his unsettled off-court issues he is best avoided until further notice.
Last week WeLoveBetting backers scored a good result when Alexander Zverev took home the bacon in Munich at a healthy 5/1 price. This was accompanied by outright victories in Estoril and Istanbul, which scored a very profitable week for me, and which were previewed on my blog. I track my outright results, and you can read my progress at this link.
Using the same methods I always do, where does the value lie in the week ahead?
As is customary the number one ranked player tops the draw of the first quarter, and that obviously is Andy Murray. I outlined my reasons for Murray having a good week above, but where will the challenges in his quarter come from?
In the Round of 16 Murray is scheduled to face Lucas Pouille who won a title a few weeks back in Budapest. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, Murray has well and truly had his number in their four career meetings to date.
Grigor Dimitrov has lost his mojo since a highly encouraging start to the season where he captured two titles and made the semi finals of the Australian Open. For the man once touted as “Baby Federer” it looked like he might finally be getting things right after a career of false dawns.
However, the hype has died down after a sharp decline in his subsequent performances, which has seen him win only one match since the start of March. Dimitrov made the Madrid quarterfinal a couple of years ago but it’s best to stay away.
A couple of wily veterans in the form of Philipp Kohlscreiber and Richard Gasquet are lurking under the radar, but Kohlschreiber is lacking in self belief following his Marrakech debacle, and Gasquet is struggling since an injury that kept him on the shelf for a few months.
The biggest challenge to Murray rests with Dominic Thiem, who recently bettered the top seed in Barcelona. On that occasion Murray wasn’t match hardened and it showed. I don’t see Thiem being so fortunate should they meet again.
This looks a very open quarter of the draw and there are eight players here which would not surprise to come out on top.
2013 finalist Stan Wawrinka is a dangerous player heading up the 2nd quarter. Stan is the tennis equivalent of Jekyll and Hyde and his inconsistent record in Madrid displays that well. His result four years ago was followed up with Round 32, Round 16 and Round 32 finishes.
It’s always dangerous to oppose Wawrinka because on his day he can defeat any player on the tour. It is safer however to side with him not playing to his 3rd seeding that would bracket him into the semifinals on paper. Of his past nine seedings at Masters events on clay Stan has bettered his seeding twice, but has fallen before it seven times. Therefore it is worth looking beyond Wawrinka for the winner in this open looking quarter.
The player with the best course form is Tomas Berdych, making the semis on two of the past four years but he is a player in an ever obvious decline and it is wise not to trust him with reaching the semis.
Marin Cilic holds the second highest seeding in this section, and looks to be in form after his performance in Istanbul. There is a higher calibre of player in Madrid and it is unlikely Cilic goes deep again here.
Pablo Cuevas is a contender to go well in Madrid following his decent clay form of late, and back to back quarter finals in Masters level events. My biggest concern with him would be getting over the line should he get into position again.
Home boy Fernando Verdasco gives a decent effort in Madrid and has made the Round of 16 a couple of times in recent years. Another decent option but not my favourite choice amongst the list of contenders.
Alex Zverev did the business for us in Munich, but it may be too much to ask for him to go deep in back to back weeks, especially as this is his first visit to Madrid.
Leeching away in the background is Pablo Carreno Busta. The Spaniard won in Estoril last week and bores opponents to tears with his increasingly effective hard working game. A semi final in Indian Wells was unexpected, but was the result of several players underperforming. Such a luxury looks unlikely here.
Jack Sock is another strong candidate for me. His early season form has been exceptional. The American defeats his national stereotype of lacking a clay court game. Sock took a wise and well deserved three week break to recover from several deep runs and Davis Cup duty in Australia. He is on the up, but is untested as a seed in clay court Masters draws. His lack of recent clay court tennis puts me off him a bit.
It’s like choosing a needle in a haystack in this quarter and whilst I see some value in Sock and Cuevas, I don’t have confidence in pulling the trigger.
Rafa Nadal is the standout name in the 3rd section. He is undefeated on the clay so far this season, hoisting 10th titles in both Barcelona and Monte Carlo.
However, whilst Nadal’s victories are an obvious achievement and shouldn’t be discounted, who has he actually beaten recently? His victory in Monte Carlo was noteworthy for the fact that it was the weakest competition faced by any recent Masters level titleist. His win in Barcelona saw him defeating only one player in the top fifty.
Nadal does not have the record in Madrid that he does in Barcelona and Monte Carlo and the value clearly lies with opposing him in the Spanish capital.
The second highest seed Milos Raonic is probably not the man to choose to do this duty. The Canadian came into Istanbul under an injury cloud and required physio treatment in his final defeat to Marin Cilic.
David Goffin finds results time and time again but if he faces Nadal surely his heavy defeat against the Spaniard a few weeks ago won’t fulfill him with the necessary belief to topple the clay master.
I quoted Nadal at the start of this article when he defined the type of player that does well in Madrid – a big server. Nick Kyrgios is arguably the biggest server on tour right now, and he has performed well in Madrid in the past, edging past Roger Federer in a serving contest.
The Australian has great form, enjoys the match up with Nadal and has a weak draw to the semi final. At a tasty 11/2 with Bet365 it is worth taking Kyrgios to win the 3rd quarter.
Novak Djokovic can be found at the foot of the draw, and looks in a very vulnerable state given his off court traumas. I’m itching to oppose Novak but even though his level has dropped it takes a very good player to topple him. Outside of his loss to Denis Istomin in Australia, his defeats this season have come at the hands of Kyrgios (X2) and Goffin.
Kei Nishikori would be a suitable candidate as the second highest seed in this section, but his fitness is very questionable – missing one of his best tournaments in Barcelona and even withdrawing from the pre-tournament exhibition this week, which seriously raises alarm bells.
It is a pity as the Japanese player has a great record in Madrid and has beaten Djokovic in the past. It’s difficult to make a case for any of the other players having the guts to take out the Serb.
Albert Ramos-Vinolas is in great form but I don’t trust him continuing his level with another deep run.
David Ferrer is a man heading towards retirement. Jo Wilfried-Tsonga is limited on the clay and he has always struggled against Djokovic. Monfils lost heavily to Hyeon Chung last week in Munich and lacks both form and match sharpness.
Djokovic will probably win this quarter but shouldn’t be trusted at small prices.