Monaco worth a punt in Rome
Our Andy Schooler is siding with a 200/1 outsider at this week's Rome Masters event on the ATP World Tour.
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We all like 200/1 winners, right?
OK, they don't come along too often but there are reasons to believe Juan Monaco could reward backers at a big price at this week's Rome Masters.
First of all, there's no doubt he's in the easier half of the draw. Indeed, the fact that the top two in the betting - Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are in the top section - makes it easy to immediately look for value in the bottom half.
Roger Federer and Andy Murray are the men seeded to reach the semis but neither impressed in supposedly favourable conditions in Madrid and the latter's defeat to Tomas Berdych in the last eight means he still has just a single victory over a top-10 ranked player on clay.
Federer's decline continued with a loss to Kei Nishikori which very few could have expected and while he remains capable of winning an event such as this in a good week, the consistency for which he was renowned is certainly on the wane.
I'm happy to swerve both and that leaves a gap; one which Monaco can fill.
The second reason for siding with him is that conditions are likely to suit.
While the high altitude of Madrid always results in faster conditions, Rome is regarded as one of the slowest surfaces, something true claycourter Monaco will be happy about.
Thirdly, the Argentine is returning to form.
He endured a miserable winless run at the start of the season but a return to the clay has boosted his confidence and results have followed.
He made the semis in Houston, quarters in Monte Carlo (where he took a set off world number one Novak Djokovic) and the last eight in Barcelona, where a defeat to Nicolas Almagro was no disgrace.
Indeed, Almagro, who is the same quarter of the draw, would be worth considering here were it not for a hip problem which is somewhat off-putting.
With a bit of luck, Monaco won't have to face players of such quality here but even if he does, the likes of Murray and Juan Martin Del Potro may not have the clay nous to thwart him. Remember Monaco won three clay titles in 2012 and finished the year ranked 12th.
My view is that 200/1 is too big considering the circumstances, certainly when some firms offer half the odds for a place in the final.
I certainly don't expect him to win the tournament for Nadal and Djokovic should really dominate, if fully fit and focused.
My initial thoughts when I looked at the prices were that Djokovic was a tad big at 3/1 and he was quickly cut to 5/2.
However, he again turned his ankle in Madrid and while he battled on admirably, the fact is Grigor Dimitrov ended up as the winner of what was a cracking match.
We were all worried about Djokovic prior to Monte Carlo due to such an injury and he duly battled his way to victory there, beating Nadal in the final.
The Serb has now won three of his last six matches with Nadal on clay - only Gaston Gaudio has ever beaten Nadal that many times on the surface - so if the pair meet in the semis, having 5/2 on your coupon will look good.
However, right now there are just too many doubts. If you want to back one of the likely winners, I suggest waiting a round or two to gauge their form and fitness.
Nadal has just won the Madrid final at time of writing so this will be his fourth full week of tennis in five if he is to reach the business end - worth noting before wading in at 11/10.
I'm happy to stick with a long shot from the opposite half of the draw and Juan's my man.
- The tournament actually got under way on Sunday with a handful of main-draw matches. However, betting will remain up with the remaining action to be televised on Sky Sports from Monday morning.