The ATP Tour heads to the Monte-Carlo Country Club for the first clay Masters 1000 of the season and Sean Calvert is back to look at the outright betting market for the 2021 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
The superstars of men’s tennis (well, some of them) make their returns to the ATP Tour this week at the Monte-Carlo Masters on the clay and after a most unusual tournament here in 2019 (it was cancelled last year) will it be back to business as usual for Rafa Nadal in 2021?
But first a look back at the opening week of the clay swing in Marbella and Cagliari.
We found the value in the opening week of the clay season, with 33-1 Nikoloz Basilashvili being by some distance the biggest-priced semi finalist in Cagliari or Marbella, but we were handed another last-four disappointment by Laslo Djere in less than an hour.
At least I didn’t have him each-way because if I had have done that would have been my 19th ‘for the money’ loss in the last 26 – as it stands I’ve only lost 18 of the last 25 (although I did have that 500-1 winner on Basil, but that wasn’t a tip).
At the time of writing the Cagliari and Marbella finals are yet to play, but Cagliari will be won by at best a 10-1 shot and Marbella most likely by the favourite, so not the opening week of the clay swing that I had in mind.
Conditions and trends
The most recent edition of the Monte-Carlo Masters in 2019 was most unusual in the sense that it produced far more underdog winners than it usually does (41% compared with its previous average of around 25%).
And it produced a 200-1 winner and 300-1 finalist in Fabio Fognini and Dusan Lajovic, where usually it’s Rafael Nadal who walks away with the trophy at around evens or shorter.
There have been a fair few big-priced finalists in recent years, with 66-1 Nishikori in 2018, 100-1 Gael Monfils in 2016 and Albert Ramos in 2017.
Before losing to Fognini in 2019, Nadal hadn’t lost here since the 2015 semi finals (to Novak Djokovic) and as ever it’s all about how the King of Clay performs this week.
As for playing conditions, it’s usually on the slow side in Monte-Carlo, with the tournament sitting rock bottom of all the events on the calendar in terms of service holds at just 72% in the last seven years.
There will be no fans in attendance this year and the player will be in a hotel bubble, apart from the likes of Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev, who as Monaco residents, are allowed to stay in their own homes there.
Top seed Novak Djokovic hasn’t won the title here since 2015 and since that last victory he’s been beaten in Monte-Carlo by Jiri Vesely, David Goffin, Domini Thiem and Daniil Medvedev, while failing to make it past the quarter finals in each of his last four appearances.
And this year looks like it could end the same way, with Djokovic facing a tough opener against either Jannik Sinner or Albert Ramos and then most likely having to get past Miami champ Hubert Hurkacz or the 2019 Monte-Carlo finalist Dusan Lajovic.
If he succeeds he’d then probably have either Alexander Zverev or David Goffin to beat to make the semi finals, so it’s far from an easy draw for Djokovic in what will be his first tournament on clay since last October’s French Open.
There have to be doubts over Zverev though after he pulled out of Marbella last week after taking a late wild card there and that suggests that the right arm injury he either sustained or aggravated in Miami isn’t a trivial issue.
That might open up Zverev’s section for a Goffin (or possibly Lorenzo Sonego or Marton Fucsovics) but it is so hard to gauge the form and mood of Goffin, who’s gone from winning a title in Montpellier to being comfortably beaten by James Duckworth in Miami in the space of a month in which he’s gone 1-4 win/loss.
Goffin has played well here in the past and is one for the short list to win the quarter, but I’m a tad put off by his poor record against round one opponent Marin Cilic, with Cilic having won four of their last five meetings.
Indeed, Cilic crushed Goffin two and two on clay in Rome only last September and the Croat showed some signs of a return to some sort of form in Miami, so I’ll pass on Goffin and indeed this section, but it’s one that Djokovic may struggle to emerge from.
Sinner looks perhaps the best one to take a big-priced punt on at 66-1, but I’d be worried about how he reacts after that Miami final loss.
This looks the quarter to think about backing a big-priced one in to me, with Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini the high seeds, and a case can be made for taking both of them on in Q2.
Berrettini has barely played this season due to injury sustained at the Australian Open almost two months ago and returned only last week in Cagliari in the doubles with his brother, so he did get a couple of dubs matches, but that’s all since February.
He made the quarter finals in Rome last year at this level on the clay, but that was with a handy draw, and it looks a tall order for him to make the latter stages in Monte-Carlo this week in all likelihood.
But, that said, with Djokovic’s recent record of falling early on at this tournament in mind, I don’t mind having an each-way play on Berrettini at the 150-1 that Unibet were offering on the Italian.
It could very well work out to be the case that Djokovic falls early and Berrettini plays his way into the tournament, but I wouldn’t back the Italian at much less than 150s given his lack of match play lately.
That 150s has now gone and 100-1 is probably too short for me on the Italian.
Tsitsipas played very well in similar conditions at the French Open back in October, but he’d had clay time under his belt ahead of that tournament and this time he comes here straight from hard courts and so far he has a 2-2 win/loss record in the Monte-Carlo main draw.
In a similar situation last autumn, Tsitsipas came from hard courts at the US Open to clay in Rome and he was woeful in his first match (should have lost heavily to Sinner, but the Italian lost his way in set two before recovering to win the decider easily) so I’m not keen on backing the Greek here.
He’s also coming off a dispiriting loss in Miami (from 1.01 against Hurkacz) when he admitted he felt pressure all tournament, so I’m happy to oppose him this week.
I’m ruling out the likes of Gael Monfils, Guido Pella, Lucas Pouille and Alex De Minaur in this quarter, with the first three miles away from form and fitness and the layer usually all at sea on clay and out of form at the moment anyway.
Aslan Karatsev usually shows his best on fast surfaces and he’s never played a main level match on clay, so it’s hard to see any value in him beating Lorenzo Musetti as favourite in round one and Musetti might fancy his chances in this part of the draw.
If he beats Karatsev, as he may well do, he’d be a tough first match for Tsitsipas and anything’s possible if he wins that one, but it’s probably a bit early to be expecting Musetti to make a M1000 final on clay in a field like this.
Other contenders in Q2 are Cristian Garin and Felix Auger-Aliassime and while FAA is certainly capable of beating Garin in their round one clash it’s Garin that you’d fancy to go on and perhaps make the business end of the tournament.
FAA has brought Toni Nadal on board to help him on the clay and given the Canadian’s stats at main level on this surface that may be a smart move on his part, as he’s 15-14 win/loss and with a hold/break total of 95.
Garin is 37-13 in his last 50 main level clay matches and with a hold/break total of 107, so the Chilean, who won recently at home in Santiago on the dirt looks a live contender in Q2.
Surprisingly, Garin has only played one M1000 match on clay so far in his career, but I’ve taken the 250-1 (each-way) that Unibet were offering about Garin, as that seems a decent price about a player of his clay pedigree.
That’s now gone, but 200-1 (Betfred) is available and is the bet in Q2.
Another possibility is Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, but he’s a bit of a long shot in this company given his inconsistency, which showed itself again last week in a poor loss to Ilya Ivashka in Marbella and he has too many days like that for my liking.
This looks to be exactly the sort of draw that 11-time Monte-Carlo champion Rafael Nadal would have wanted in which to ease himself back into the swing of things on the clay.
Adrian Mannarino or a qualifier first up in a mini-section of the draw that contains Jan-Lennard Struff, Jeremy Chardy, Alexander Bublik and Grigor Dimitrov won’t worry Nadal in the slightest.
After that, it’s hard to see either Andrey Rublev or Roberto Bautista Agut (3-0 to Nadal on clay and a total of 42-14 in games won/lost) coming close to beating Rafa on clay, so I’m writing this quarter off as a Nadal win.
He was beaten by Fabio Fognini here last time (in 2019) but that was the worst match I’ve ever seen Nadal play on clay and he didn’t play well in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona or Madrid that season.
Maybe the same will happen this season, but it would be a big shock if his name wasn’t in the list of semi finalists.
If we’re hoping that Nadal loses early – as unlikely as that is given his 71-5 record here and that he’s only once lost earlier than the semis since 2003 (to Ferrer in the quarters in 2014) – perhaps the most likely one to profit from that would be Diego Schwartzman.
The diminutive Argentine has a tough draw though, with probably Casper Ruud first up, followed by probably one of Karen Khachanov, Laslo Djere or Pablo Carreno Busta and a quarter final could be against Daniil Medvedev (6-0 head-to-head to Medvedev, although they’ve never met on clay) or defending champion Fabio Fognini.
So, it’s a tough-looking quarter and Schwartzman doesn’t have a great record here, with his last outing in Monte-Carlo being a loss to Taylor Fritz and before that Richard Gasquet crushed him here.
As well as the players I mentioned above there’s the likes of Nikoloz Basilashvili and Filip Krajinovic in this quarter and one of those two will be the first opponent for Monaco resident Medvedev.
We know that Medvedev is very far from his best on the clay usually and often he barely puts much of an effort in, but here in Monte-Carlo he’s shown what he can do, with a semi final finish last time out.
Even then, he pretty much tanked the second set of his semi final loss to Dusan Lajovic, and that came after beating Tsitsipas and Djokovic back-to-back.
Krajinovic took Medvedev to five sets when they met at the Australian Open this year before (typically for Krajinovic) running out of gas in the decider, but the Serb is an interesting proposition this week, as could be Basilashvili.
Whoever wins out of Basil and Krajinovic could have a chance in Q4 – or they might succeed in taking down Medvedev to allow Fognini a decent run in the defence of his Monte-Carlo title.
The Fog was typically lacklustre in Marbella last week but you’d imagine he’d be up for it this week and he should beat Kecmanovic in round one and the winner of Thompson/Paire in round two.
But Krajinovic has beaten Fognini the last two times they met (one on clay, but it was years ago) so he shouldn’t be afraid of either Fognini or Medvedev (he beat Medvedev on slow hard at Indian Wells as recently as 2019) and the Serb could potentially win the quarter.
He might lose to Basil in round one of course, but what I’m waiting for here is a price on Krajinovic to win Q4, with all the attention focused on the likes of Schwartzman, Medvedev and Fognini.
I couldn’t back Krajinovic each-way because of Nadal’s presence in this half, but I’ll see if we can get a good price on him to win this quarter when they’re available – if they become available.
For now, I’ll just advise Garin at 200s and wait for the Q4 price on Krajinovic and report back on that on Twitter. If you can get 150s on Berrettini then that’s a bet, too, with Djokovic perhaps vulnerable in Q1, but in all likelihood this will be Nadal’s week in Monte-Carlo again.
0.5 points each-way Garin to win at 200-1 (Betfred)