Sean Calvert’s ATP Rome Preview

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The second of the back-to-back clay Masters 1000s takes place in week 19 of the ATP Tour, with the Internazionali BNL d’Italia taking centre stage and Sean Calvert is back to assess the outright betting market in Rome.

We’re back at the Foro Italico for the Rome Masters – only eight months or so after it was played in 2020 – but before we get into it let’s look back at what was a successful Madrid Masters.


At the time of writing the Madrid Masters is yet to complete, but we have our 50-1 each-way shot, Matteo Berrettini, into the final, where he’ll face Alexander Zverev as roughly a 2.65 underdog.

We spent one point only on hedging the semi final when Casper Ruud met the 5.0 threshold for that cover bet and in the final I’ll be doing a similar thing.

The recommended hedging bet for the final is to back Zverev for 2 points if he hits a price of 4.0 in-play.

The other bet I was thinking about in Madrid almost came back to haunt me when John Isner played as well as I’d anticipated and came very close (1.25 from 17.0) to winning his quarter.

Conditions and trends

The crowds are starting to come back to professional tennis and this coming week in Rome there will be some fans in attendance at the Foro Italico, but only from the last-16 stage onwards and only 25% capacity and only on the three show courts.

So, it won’t be the lively, often raucous atmosphere that’s made Rome so special over the years, but it’s a step in the right direction.

When the players were here last in September 2020 it was an unseasonably hot week in Rome and conditions were on the quicker side and the CPI on Pietrangeli was up at 29.0 (Centrale 25.5) on semi finals day.

The weather forecast for this week in Rome suggests that it’ll be okay at the start, but rain is forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday and showers for the rest of the week, so slow conditions are expected this time.

It’s usually pretty slow in the night matches anyway, but this year’s forecast suggests it’ll be particularly slow this week.

Since Felix Mantilla won it in 2003 (beating Federer in the final) only Alexander Zverev has lifted the Rome trophy without also being a Grand Slam champion (that may follow at some point for Zverev, of course), so it’s rarely a tournament for big prices.

The occasional finalist has been a decent price though, with Diego Schwartzman last year one example, but they’ve been few and far between.

Qualifiers don’t generally fare well in Rome, with Dominik Koepfer last year being the first genuine qualifier (as opposed to lucky loser) to make it past round three since 2009.

Quarter 1

The first thing that jumps off the page about this Rome draw is that it’s rather top-heavy, with Novak Djokovic, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem and Andrey Rublev all in there and so only one of that quartet will be making the final.

Djokovic and Tsitsipas are drawn together in Q1 and the world number one may well face a rematch in round one against the man that knocked him out of Monte-Carlo – Dan Evans.

It seems unlikely that Evans will be able to repeat that upset now that the Serb has experienced the Brit’s game at close quarters and with Grigor Dimitrov the other seed in Djokovic’s mini-section it looks long odds-on that Djokovic will progress to a possible last-eight clash with Tsitsipas.

The Greek’s mini-section looks a little trickier to negotiate than Djokovic’s though, with power hitters Matteo Berrettini and Nikoloz Basilashvili capable of causing an upset, while Marin Cilic, Dusan Lajovic and Alexander Bublik aren’t easy outs either.

Cilic looked a bit more like his old self in a run to the semis in Estoril a few weeks back, while Bublik made the quarter finals in Madrid, but you’d expect this slower clay in Rome to be less to Bublik’s liking.

Tsitsipas will play the winner of Cilic/Bublik, but I’m tempted by Lajovic in this quarter at a massive price (500-1 with Paddy Power/Betfair).

Lajovic made the final of Monte-Carlo at this level in similar conditions not too long ago and he’s caused plenty of problems for Tsitsipas in their career series, too.

He should have won the opening set against Tsitsipas on the clay in Hamburg only last autumn and all of their clashes have been well contested affairs on Lajovic’s part.

The obvious problem with backing Lajovic to win the quarter is that he’d still most likely have to beat Djokovic even if he defeats Tsitsipas.

Berrettini is the obvious pick to threaten Tsitsipas in this mini-section, but I wonder what he has left physically after a tough week in Madrid and having been injured recently.

Basilashvili could take advantage against the Italian and go on and test out Tsitsipas if he’s on one of his go weeks, so this doesn’t look a gimme of a section for the Greek, and even if he makes it the quarters it’s hard to fancy him in slow conditions against Djokovic.

Djokovic hasn’t been seen on the match court since losing to Aslan Karatsev in slow conditions at his home tournament in Belgrade a few weeks ago and he’s been practicing with Brandon Nakshima in Sarajevo this past week, having pulled out of Madrid.

The world number one has a fine record in Rome of 55-9 win/loss, with five of those nine losses coming against Rafael Nadal, and he hasn’t been beaten before the semi final stage since Tomas Berdych did it in 2013.

He defends his 2020 Rome title here this week and his handy-looking early draw makes him a strong favourite to make at least the semi finals again.

Quarter 2

Dominic Thiem will have been pleased by his return to action last week in Madrid, making the semi finals after almost two months out, but he looked a bit leggy against Alexander Zverev on Saturday and his record in Rome isn’t great.

He hasn’t won a match at the Foro Italico since beating Nadal in the 2017 quarter finals, but his draw this week in Rome doesn’t look particularly testing in the early rounds.

The high seed in Thiem’s mini-section is Gael Monfils – remember him? And with Monfils not having played regularly for over a year and holding a 0-6 record against Thiem it seems unlikely that Monfils will be much of a factor here.

Guido Pella has been struggling with illness and injuries for a long time now, while Marton Fucsovics and Alex De Minaur need it quicker than this and maybe Lorenzo Sonego playing at home can be the one to challenge Thiem in that section of Q2.

Sonego doesn’t have much of a record in Rome yet, but he did win at home in Cagliari on the clay recently and I wouldn’t rule him out of maybe making a run to the quarters.

The second half of Q2 looks stronger, with Andrey Rublev, Cristian Garin and Roberto Bautista Agut all strong contenders, along with perhaps Jan-Lennard Struff, who finally made a tour level final a couple of weeks ago in Munich.

I feel that it’s too slow here for Bautista Agut, who’s only made the last-16 in Rome once, but Garin will be pleased with his improved showing in Madrid after struggling a little prior to that.

But the pick has to be Rublev, who’ll be looking to get back to winning ways after being rather unfortunate to lose to John Isner in Madrid and prior to that he was tired in Barcelona in defeat to Jannik Sinner.

He’s got a good record against Thiem, winning four of their last five meetings at all levels, and the Russian has strong claims in this quarter on similar paced clay to that of Monte-Carlo, where he made the final.

I’m not sure I can see him beating Djokovic if Rublev did make it to the semi finals though, so I won’t be backing Rublev.

In a continuing theme of mad prices from Paddy Power/Betfair, I’ve had what I’m allowed (which isn’t much) on Garin at 300-1 each-way in this section, purely because that price is much too big.

Quarter 3

Q3 looks the one for a possible big-priced finalist to me, with a handful in with a realistic chance of making the semi finals.

Diego Schwartzman, David Goffin, Daniil Medvedev, Aslan Karatsev and Hubert Hurkacz appear the five most likely to reach the latter stages, but I wouldn’t rule out Karen Khachanov, Lorenzo Musetti, or Felix Auger-Aliassime totally either.

The problem for all of these is that they’ll most likely have to beat Nadal to make the final, but the almost 35-year-old Spaniard doesn’t look the force of old at the moment and he can’t be feeling at his most confident right now after a pretty mediocre (by his standards) clay swing thus far.

Schwartzman beat Nadal in straight sets at the quarter final stage of Rome only last October and if the forecast is correct damp conditions aren’t usually the best ones for Nadal’s heavy top-spin game.

He can usually grind it out over the best of five on a massive court at Roland Garros, but for me Rafa’s no sure thing to lift what would be a 10th Rome title.

It’s hard to see clay-loathing Medvedev being motivated enough to do much on damp clay and after having recently been suffering with Covid, too, plus he’ll probably have to face Karatsev in his opening match.

And it’s Karatsev, Goffin and Schwartzman that look the most interesting ones in Q3, with Karatsev having shown how effective his powerful game can be on slow clay when he beat Djokovic in Belgrade.

That win must have given him even more belief in his game and having also overpowered Schwartzman (admittedly in quicker conditions in Madrid) he’s got to be feeling good about his game.

A best price of 40-1 (Paddy/Betfair) isn’t brilliant and I wouldn’t take anything shorter, but that looks just about OK.

And what about the 200-1 about David Goffin, who usually goes well in Rome, only ever losing here to major winners or finalists at this tournament and holding a decent 11-6 record?

The Belgian is hardly the most reliable in terms of his hot and cold form, but he was playing well in Monte-Carlo and should have made the semi finals there, losing a bad one to Dan Evans, before he got injured in Barcelona.

He then skipped Madrid to rest the adductor injury and if he plays to his best form he might be the surprise package in Q3 ahead of Hurkacz, who’s capable of a good run himself.

Quarter 4

Nadal won’t be too pleased to see his name drawn with that of Zverev in Q4 after the German beat the Spaniard in straight sets last week in Madrid and this does like it could be a tricky draw for Nadal.

His first match may well be against what will surely be a highly-motivated Jannik Sinner and if he wins that he’d face either Casper Ruud, who played so well in Madrid (until the semi final), or Denis Shapovalov, who was so close to making the Rome final only seven months ago.

If he wins that he may well face Zverev again or perhaps Fabio Fognini, who we know is capable of beating Nadal if he’s on his best form.

So, it’s a tough one, potentially, for Nadal and I’m not wild about Zverev this week either, as history is against the German this week (assuming he wins the Madrid final).

The last man to win Madrid and Rome back-to-back was Nadal back in 2013 and Djokovic has only done it once – way back in 2011 – so it’s one of the toughest asks in the men’s game.

Sinner is a possibility in this quarter at his home major, and a price of 80-1 (Paddy/Betfair) is tempting, but perhaps the value could lie with Denis Shapovalov, who was within a few points (served for the match) of making the final here in Rome in October.

At the moment it doesn’t appear likely that he’ll repeat that run, but you never know when Shapo will catch fire, and he can’t be ruled out a very big price of 300-1 with our friends at Paddy/Betfair.

Fognini is another possibility at 250-1, with the Italian highly likely to be putting a maximum effort in this week, with time not on his side anymore if he wants to win this Rome title before retiring.

He’s looked pretty ordinary so far this clay swing, but then again he lost in straight sets to Jiri Vesely in Marrakech the week before he won Monte-Carlo, so I wouldn’t put it past Fognini to give this a real go.

It’s not a kind draw for the Fog, with Kei Nishikori first up and then probably Pablo Carreno Busta, who Fognini has lost to seven times (1-7 head-to-head), but it wasn’t a nice draw in Monte-Carlo when he won it either.

PCB is one that may have been of interest, but he always seems beaten before the warm-up when he faces Nadal, so I couldn’t back him for that reason.


So, a few crazy prices around this week again and if you can get them the 300-1 about Shapovalov, 200-1 on Goffin and 250-1 about Fognini look the best of those, while the 40-1 about Karatsev will be the main interest this week.

Best Bets

1 point win Karatsev at 40-1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)
0.5 points each-way Goffin at 200-1 (Bet 365)
0.5 points each-way Shapovalov at 300-1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)
0.5 points each-way Fognini at 250-1 (Paddy Power/Betfair)