The last of the clay court Masters Series events, the final warm up to the French Open gets underway this week in Rome, Italy.
One of the oldest tournaments on tour it is also one of the best predictors of French Open success and the domain for the last ten years, as is much of European clay, of Rafael Nadal. He is a winner of eight of the last fourteen Rome Masters and he’s also lost in the finals twice in that fourteen-year span. But, for ONLY the second time in his career (2015) Nadal comes to Rome without a European clay title in hand. Maybe he is finally, finally vulnerable.
Let’s dig in and find out!
This will be short and sweet. The draw ended up being very lopsided. The top half of the draw looks like it might be very much a tale of two players. And two players only.
The first quarter, obviously, has the #1 seed Novak Djokovic. It’s pretty hard to imagine him getting an easier path to the semi-finals. His draw includes “big” name players such as Nick Kyrgios, Daniil Medvedev, Stan Wawrinka, and Juan Martin DelPotro, as well as solid wild cards such as Philipp Kohlschreiber and Macro Cecchinato. Well, Kyrgios hates clay (and lost in the first round last week to Jan Lennard Struff). Medvedev was crushing clay but went out early in Madrid to Pella and would have a revenge-filled Djokovic to get past, having defeated him in Monte Carlo. Stan isn’t quite 2016 again, yet. Del Potro is in only his third event in 2019 coming off major knee surgery and lost last week to Laso Djere. Kohl and Cecchinato both would have to deal with the same thing as Medvedev, playing a revenge-filled Djokovic who surely wouldn’t have forgotten recent high profile losses to each of them (Cecchinato at last years French and Kohl at Indian Wells). None of these guys seems like a serious threat to Djokovic. In fact, his “to win the quarter” price looks extremely low. A possible path for Djoker would be Shapovalov, Cecchinato/Kohl, Wawrinka/Delpo/Medvedev. There is no way a running parlay of those three matches gets close to -200. So, that’s one bet (if you have it available). The other would be to load up on Djokovic to win the title. Anything between +200 and +300 seems delicious considering he will have to play just Zverev and one of Nadal/Fed/Thiem. He should be heavily favoured in every scenario there.
The second quarter, like the first, has a ton of “good” names but only premier name. Zverev’s name sticks out like a sore thumb here. Berrettini is a good young player but, with a lot of recent miles on his body. Schwartzman has not had an impressive 2019. Cilic and Dimitrov have, likewise, had terrible runs lately and don’t appear to be in good form. Two names that may strike fear into a Zverev bettor would be Gael Monfils and Guido Pella. Pella has had a phenomenal 2019 but, he is a, for lack of a better phrase, 250-level star player. In this last year of success for Pella, he has lost both matches versus top five talents (Nadal and Thiem), he has split matches with top twenty opponents (Cecchinato, Isner, Khachanov) and if you widen it out to top fifty, Pella is only 8–7. The chances of Pella running through Nishikori-Dimitrov/Cilic-Zverev is slim, given this history. That leaves Monfils as a realistic impediment. He holds a 3–0 head-to-head with Zverev. But, all three matches took place when Zverev was a teenager and Monfils’ frail body may struggle to hold up on clay. The only clay tournament in the last three years where Monfils has managed to hold up and win more than two matches in a row was 2018 in Buenes Aires (and it wasn’t any kind of murderer’s row of opponents either). One last reason to put your money on Zverev over Monfils or even Nishikori would be the potential semi-final match-up. Let’s say you go 40/1 on Nishikori or Monfils at 80/1. What happens when they meet up with Djokovic? Are you laying -1000 on Djokovic as a possible hedge in the semi-final? And then doing so again in the final against Nadal or Thiem? Because that’s what you’ll be facing. Monfils is 0–15 against Djokovic. That line will easily be close to -1000. Nishikori is 2–16. That line will also be crazy high. Neither guy has a much better look against Nadal. So, throw a little bit on Zverev, who should be super motivated to back up two straight trips to the finals here and who has actually beaten Djokovic recently.
The bottom half of the draw is loaded! Too loaded to be picking a winner from. Tsitsipas has to be getting tired at some point. This is his fifth straight week playing a big-time tournament (Estoril may be a 250 but, it seems important to him). And he’s made runs at each. Federer should be motivated to make a deep run here (there was never any doubt he was playing Rome). But, he showed he is still a tad bit away from being fit for clay — he tired against both Monfils and Thiem. And this week he’ll potentially have to run through Tsitsipas -Thiem/Nadal-Djokovic. That’s rough. What he can hope for is to get more reps, make another quarter-final or semi-final run and then get ready for Roland Garros. Thiem and Nadal somehow landed in the same quarter. Thiem has too low of a price considering, like Fed, he’ll have a tough path. There is a real chance that in order to win this tournament Thiem will have to beat the three best players in history in succession — Nadal, Fed, then Djokovic. Has anyone ever done that? As for Nadal, he has looked, maybe not ordinary but, certainly not Nadal-esque in 2019. He does not have a title yet this year. This is the first time since he was 18, in 2004, that he doesn’t have a title in May. And it is the second time he has come to Rome without a European clay title (in 2015 the only title he had heading to Rome was Buenos Aires, a clay Golden Swing event). The bottom half is too hard to pick. Stay away.
Djokovic to win 1st quarter -200, x1 (1 to win 0.5)
Djokovic to win +240, x2
Zverev to win +1400, x0.5