Sean Calvert’s ATP Rome Day 1 Preview

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The ATP Tour moves on quickly from the Madrid Masters to Rome for the Internazionali BNL D’Italia for the second of the back-to-back Masters 1000s on the clay and Sean Calvert returns with his pick of the round one prices.

We’re back at the Foro Italico only seven months or so since the last edition of the Rome Masters and as I mentioned in my outright preview it’ll be very different conditions in the Eternal City this time (assuming the weather forecast is correct).

It was pretty hot all week last autumn when Rome was last played, but it’s set to rain all week with the exception of Monday, so it should play on the slow side.

As far as historical trends are concerned, Rome has provided quite a few more underdog winners in the last two years (39%) than usual and its overall average in the last eight years sits at 30%, which is about regular for a M1000.

The average service hold in Rome is 77% in the last five years and 36% of its matches have featured at least one tie break in the last eight editions (44% in 2020 in that warm week).

The only year in the last five that you’d have made a profit in Rome by backing all of the underdogs was last year and that was largely thanks to Diego Schwartzman beating Rafael Nadal at 14-1.

Overall, you’d be £287 down using that strategy in the last five years in Rome and no betting underdog has won a Rome semi final since betting records began in 2004.

Monday looks like it’ll be the only day of the week that it won’t be raining (or have showers) and it’s expected to be around 25C and sunny, so it’ll likely be the quickest conditions we’ll see all week.

There are 13 men’s singles matches in this joint ATP/WTA event on Monday and my shortlist of value selections for includes: Gianluca Mager, Hubert Hurkacz, Benoit Paire and Fabio Fognini.

Gianluca Mager has been in pretty decent form this clay swing, with a title at the Marbella Challenger backed up by a strong showing on slow clay in Belgrade, where he made the quarter finals, beating Laslo Djere and Alexei Popyrin before losing to Aslan Karatsev.

Karatsev went on to beat Novak Djokovic in his next match in Belgrade, so the form looks decent for Mager, who should also be highly motivated playing at his home Masters 1000 tournament.

Mager then beat Egor Gerasimov and lost to Pierre Hugues-Herbert, which is no disgrace at altitude, and now he’s underdog against Alex De Minaur, whose struggles on the clay continue.

The Aussie has rarely looked comfortable on the dirt and I remember taking him on with Dominik Koepfer here at a nice price in 2020, with Koepfer winning in a final set tie break.

De Minaur’s only other appearance in Rome was also a defeat – on that occasion to Marco Cecchinato – and ADM’s clay stats for his last 10 matches at main level reveal that he’s held serve 69.7% of the time and broken 26.9% of the time for a total of 97.6.

That’s far from impressive for a player ranked in the top-25 in the world and it’s worse than the 99.2 of Mager in the Italian’s last 10 matches on clay at main level.

The return of crowds may help De Minaur get himself going, but they’re not due inside the stadium this week until Thursday, so that won’t help him on Monday when it’ll be another empty stand.

I suspect Mager will be the more motivated here and I don’t mind taking him as a 2.50 (Bet 365) underdog in this one.

Mager will be the only bet I’ll have on Monday, with none of the others really holding huge appeal, which can be highlighted by the fact that I was seriously considering backing Benoit Paire.

The moody Frenchman has tanked his way through pretty much all of this season so far, but it appears that he’s now decided he’s going to try again.

A Paire that’s giving his best effort shouldn’t be as big as 3.75 against an opponent of the calibre of Stefano Travaglia, but it’s hard to have any sort of faith in Paire’s “I’m back” claims.

Travaglia started the season really well, making a final on hard courts in Melbourne, but since then he’s gone on a run of 3-8 win/loss, with no wins against anyone ranked higher than number 135.

The Italian played pretty well in Rome last autumn, beating Taylor Fritz and Borna Coric before losing in two tie breaks to Matteo Berrettini, but his recent form is a worry and you never know with Benoit – he might just be value.

Talking of mercurial types, that leads me on to Fabio Fognini, who could also prove to be a hint of value as underdog against Kei Nishikori.

Fogna is another one that started the season well on unsuitably quick hard courts, making the final of the ATP Cup and the fourth round of the Australian Open, but other than a fait effort in retaining his Monte-Carlo title we haven’t seen a lot from him.

Defaulted in Barcelona and second best to Berrettini in Madrid isn’t an ideal preparation for his home tournament, but I do feel that we’ll see a big effort from Fabio this week in Rome and this 2021 version of Nishikori is not at the same level as the Nishikori of old.

We’ve already got Fognini at a big price outright, so I don’t feel the need to double up. That’s probably not wise given Fognini’s unpredictability.

Two more Italians are on the schedule for Monday and both look a tad short in the betting: Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner.

Musetti made his breakthrough at main level here in Rome last season, making the third round as a qualifier, beating Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka along the way, but his form lately hasn’t been anything to write home about.

He lost in straight sets to Carlos Taberner last week in Madrid and since his run to the semis in Acapulco (and maybe before that) he’s been priced on what he might be capable of rather than what’s realistic week-in/week-out.

Now he faces the much more experienced player (and a Masters 100 champion) than himself in Hubert Hurkacz and Musetti is priced up as slight favourite with most layers.

Hurkacz hasn’t covered himself in glory since winning Miami, but he should have seen it out against Millman last week from three match points up for a straight sets win, and I wonder if the Pole could be value here.

What puts me off him is that this is a night match and even on the warmest day of the week it’ll probably be too slow for Hurkacz, who admitted after the Millman match: “I’m still struggling on clay. John Millman is a great fighter, but I can play better on this surface, I need to improve.”

Jannik Sinner also had a bit of let down in Madrid, losing to Alexei Popyrin as a 1.26 chance, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ugo Humbert rather enjoy being in the role of the underdog on a surface he doesn’t really enjoy.

Humbert has nothing to lose here and he can play on clay, as he showed when making the Hamburg quarter finals (lost in a final set to Casper Ruud) and he’s certainly good enough to take advantage of any nerves from Sinner.

So, a few possible and maybes, but the only one I’ll back on Monday is Mager.

Best Bet

1 point win Mager to beat De Minaur at 2.50 (Bet 365)