There’s Masters 1000 action on the clay in week 18 of the 2021 ATP Tour, with the focus switching to Spain for the Mutua Madrid Open, and Sean Calvert is back to cast his eye over the draw for outright betting value.
We’re in Madrid this week for the second clay Masters 1000 tournament of the season, but first a look back on last week’s action on the dirt in Estoril and Munich.
The week in Munich began in what’s become almost traditional fashion – with an outright loss from long odds-on.
This time it was Frances Tiafoe, who managed to lose from 1.02 in-play against an opponent in Kevin Anderson who hadn’t played for months and not on clay since last autumn – and as it turned out Tiafoe would have faced a lucky loser in the next round had he taken one of his many opportunities.
I said that it might be up to Cam Norrie or Pedro Martinez to oust Christian Garin and it was Norrie that did after he edged out my fancy Martinez right at the death on a double fault and the Brit went on to make the final.
Our other two value picks last week were both beaten by a Nikoloz Basilashvili that was on one of his occasional go weeks and while Twitter followers will know that I managed to grab the 63-1 that Unibet were offering on Basil, that price was gone in a matter of minutes.
And therein lies the problem: I can only tip the prices that are there for more than a few minutes and while it’s worked out nicely for me with Basil twice this season, the P&L isn’t benefitting.
Conditions and trends
We’re back at the Caja Magica for the Madrid Open this week and here they play at slight altitude (667m) so controlling the ball is always something for the players to deal with early on in the week.
The outside courts are uncovered, so they’ll get slower if it rains, but the main three courts have retractable rooves, so play will continue effectively on indoor clay if there’s a lot of rain about.
It doesn’t seem like rain will be an issue this week anyway, as the forecast suggests a dry week in store, so conditions should be on the quicker side this week given the altitude and no rain.
As far as spectators are concerned, the tournament says it’s allowing 40% of its usual capacity in, so there will be some sort of atmosphere at least, unlike in Monte-Carlo a few weeks ago.
Rafael Nadal has been nowhere near as successful in Madrid (four titles since it moved to clay courts in 2009) as he has elsewhere on clay, but he’ll fancy his chances this year, with no Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic in this year’s draw.
The only player so far to have won the Madrid trophy that hasn’t also got a Grand Slam title to his name is Alexander Zverev and the winner has come from one of the top-five seeds each year since it moved to clay in 2009.
No qualifier has been beyond the quarter finals in the 11 editions since it switched to clay and top seeds have a patchy record here lately (three titles in the last eight editions).
Rafael Nadal has only won Madrid once since 2014 (and he was rather fortunate in 2014 when an on-fire Kei Nishikori had to retire in the final) but he still has a win percentage of 85% at this tournament (on clay).
That’s nowhere near as impressive as his 94% win rate in Barcelona or 98% at Roland Garros for example, but he’s still only ever lost once before the quarter finals in Madrid – and that was in the blue clay year of 2012 to Fernando Verdasco.
His early draw might be interesting this time though, with (most likely) young gun Carlos Alcaraz up first, followed by another in Jannik Sinner and in these quicker than normal clay conditions it’ll be intriguing to see what sort of challenge Sinner can pose to Nadal.
Nadal is certainly more prone to being bullied by power here in Madrid than at, say, Roland Garros or Monte-Carlo and his last two appearances in Madrid have seen him lose to Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem.
Tsitsipas was mighty close to beating Nadal on slower clay in Barcelona a couple of weeks back and he was comfortably beaten by Andrey Rublev in Monte-Carlo, so this week will be another good test for the soon-to-be 35-year-old.
As well as Alcaraz and Sinner, Nadal also has Alexander Zverev, Hubert Hurkacz, Kei Nishikori and Karen Khachanov in Q1, along with Dan Evans, Jan-Lennard Struff and Guido Pella.
Zverev could also be a threat to Nadal, but I’m not sure quite how fit the German is at the moment after injury issues lately and a pretty poor performance last week on home soil in Munich.
On that form it’s hard to fancy the 2018 Madrid champion, but Zverev does have an excellent 10-2 record at this tournament, so it would be no surprise to see the German shake off last week’s display and go well again.
He’ll have to be on it from the get go though, with either Khachanov or Nishikori his opening round opponent and not much appeals in Q1 as far as betting is concerned, with Nadal the likely winner of it.
Rafa may not get past the winner of Q2 though and that looks likely to be Rublev, with the Russian drawn alongside Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut, John Isner and Grigor Dimitrov.
Thiem hasn’t played since losing to Lloyd Harris in Dubai in mid-March due to a combination of a knee injury and a lack of motivation and it’s a big ask for him to come back after six weeks off and no clay matches and get right back to his best level.
He was due to play Belgrade but pulled out and he admitted that it would take a while to find his form again.
“But still, it will take me some weeks to get to my best level,” he said after withdrawing from Belgrade and he’s spoken frankly recently about how the Covid restrictions are affecting him mentally.
He’ll be gearing up for a serious shot at the French Open and it’s hard to see anyone other than Rublev winning this quarter.
Bautista Agut has only once made the quarter finals in Madrid in eight tries and has lost four of his last five matches here, while Alex De Minaur struggles on clay and Dimitrov has lost five of his last seven matches here, too.
Isner has won five of his last seven matches in Madrid (making the last eight in his last two appearances) and could well cause problems for the likes of Bautista Agut again if he’s on form.
The 16-1 about Isner winning this quarter is a possible option, but I’d want a bit bigger ideally.
So, it all points to Rublev, but this will be the Russian’s debut in Madrid, so we’ll have to wait and see how he copes with the conditions, however he stands a fine chance of winning Q2 and potentially being too powerful for Nadal again also.
Q3 looks tough, with Diego Schwartzman, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Aslan Karatsev, and Casper Ruud all possible winners of this quarter, plus the likes of Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Nikoloz Basilashvili and maybe Cam Norrie or Marton Fucsovics could surprise, too.
It’s hard to ignore the claims of Monte-Carlo champion Tsitsipas, who’s compiled a 9-1 win/loss mark so far this season on the clay and with it a hold/break total of 125.
And the Greek scores highly on ‘course form’ too, having beaten Nadal and made the final the last time that Madrid was held in 2019 (lost to Djokovic in the final).
A likely round one encounter with Basilashvili could be a banana skin, depending on what mood Basil turns up in, but it will be a tight turnaround for the Georgian after Munich, although the altitude is very similar there to Madrid.
Basil easily overpowered Ruud in Munich, and Ruud can look rather lightweight against the bigger hitters and perhaps the altitude will help the Norwegian, but he’s hard to fancy on that display against Basilashvili.
The interesting one for me in Q3 is Karatsev, who has the power to hit through any conditions, but does he have the control needed for Madrid?
We’ll have to wait and see, but Tsitsipas dealt with him with little fuss in Monte-Carlo and the Greek has to be the form pick ahead of Schwartzman, who might find his lack of power a handicap in these conditions.
Jeremy Chardy crushed him the last time that Schwartzman played here and I’d be worried about a likely opening match with Karatsev in these conditions, so it’s Tsitsipas for me in this quarter.
This final quarter of the draw looks wide open with plenty in with chances.
Q4 favourite, Daniil Medvedev, could scarcely be any more honest in his assessment of clay court tennis, but the pacier conditions may help the clay-loathing Russian here in Madrid.
That said, he hasn’t won either of his two previous matches at the Caja Magica and there are doubts about a couple of other Q4 contenders in that regard, too.
Fabio Fognini usually turns up here en route to Rome, where he’s likely to put in more of an effort, and the Italian is just 6-10 win/loss in the main draw in Madrid on clay.
Similarly, Pablo Carreno Busta has a weak record here of 1-5 win/loss and 3-10 in sets and he hasn’t played anyone ranked higher than world number 14 here, so you couldn’t say he’s been unlucky with his opponents.
Albert Ramos is 4-7 win/loss here and Christian Garin is really struggling for form at the moment (“I didn’t feel well on court, even in the first set,” he said after losing to Norrie in Estoril. “Never felt comfortable, never felt good. I’m worried.), so we’re left with Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Matteo Berrettini as the most likely big-priced ones.
Berrettini came back to form and fitness nicely in Belgrade and has a good chance here you would think in the quicker conditions, although the slight worry with him is that he might save his legs for Rome next week.
I don’t mind taking a chance at 50-1 on the Italian, with Davidovich Fokina still too inconsistent to be trusted, as he showed once again in Estoril this past weekend when he put in a weak performance in the semi finals there.
Rublev looks the one for possible value in the top half of the draw if you’re taking on Nadal, but my worry with him is that Tsitsipas (among others) has got his number and I’m yet to be convinced that the Russian has the required self-belief at this sort of level.
It’s not the best of prices, but Tsitsipas looks the pick in the bottom half, with Berrettini – if he’s not saving himself for Rome – the best of the bigger prices.
1.5 points win Tsitsipas to win at 7.0 (Unibet)
0.5 points each way Berrettini at 50-1 (generally)