Duo hold outside chance
Our Andy Schooler picks out two long shots in a Shanghai Masters market dominated by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
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This week brings the penultimate ATP Masters 1000 tournament of the season in Shanghai and, as ever, it's hard to get away from one particular stat.
The so-called 'Big Four' have now captured 66 of the last 79 Masters titles.
With Andy Murray absent and Roger Federer looking more and more like a spent force - he has just one title this season - many will feel this is a straight shoot-out between new world number one Rafael Nadal and the man he has just replaced in that position, the defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Certainly the bookies feel that way with Djokovic a 5/4 shot, Nadal offered at 13/8 and 14/1 bar.
While it would be no surprise to see those two in the final again - the pair played out Sunday's China Open final in Beijing with Djokovic winning in straight sets - the prices are short and won't appeal to all.
Of the two, Djokovic would be my pick.
He was easily the best player on show in Beijing and lost only six points on serve as he gave Nadal little chance in the final to avenge his US Open defeat.
With the courts expected to play slightly slower in Shanghai, Nadal's chances would appear likely to increase but I'm wary of his end-of-season record, in particular his history in Asia.
The Spaniard has won just one title in the biggest continent in the last five years with surprise defeats coming fairly often in this part of the world.
Yes, he's had the season of his life - Sunday's Beijing final was his 13th in 14 tournaments this year - but that also means there's an awful lot of tennis in his legs.
History suggests Nadal has found reproducing his efforts from earlier in the season hard to do at this point of the year.
Djokovic's superb 2011 season also saw him 'hit the wall' post-US Open and I feel sure Nadal will be suffering further defeats between now and the end of the season.
In contrast, Djokovic's Asian record is much better. He has now won in Beijing in four of the last five years, while he triumphed in Shanghai last season.
In fact, in the four years this tournament has been played, Djokovic has been to the semis on two other occasions, while, when the Masters Cup was staged here in 2008, it was the Serb who emerged victorious.
A potentially tricky opener could come against friend and compatriot Janko Tipsarevic but he hasn't enjoyed a good season and I can see Djokovic moving safely past him and then Federer in their projected quarter-final.
However, 5/4 is not a working man's price and am I convinced that Djokovic will triumph if he meets Nadal in the final next weekend? No.
Frankly this doesn't look a great tournament to bet on from the outright perspective, but if you do fancy trying your luck with some long-odds shots, I'd suggest you could do worse than side with Gilles Simon and Feliciano Lopez.
Both avoid the sections of Djokovic and Nadal so could be value in any quarter markets which go up - sadly at the time of writing I can see none available.
I'll start with Simon, who admittedly isn't a man you'd immediately think of as an alternative to the big guns but his 200/1 quote seems rather direspectful.
The 13th seed is exactly the sort of player who will appreciate the slower hardcourt surface given he's prepared to grind away out there.
He can get under the skin of the best players - a decent record against Federer is evidence of that.
Indeed he beat the Swiss maestro here at the aforementioned Masters Cup in 2008 when he made the semis of the elite eight-man field. He also reached the quarter-finals of this tournament in 2009.
Those were his better days but the Frenchman is still very much part of the world's top 20 and has shown some impressive form in recent weeks.
Simon claimed the title on home soil in Metz, beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, before reaching the semis in Bangkok, going down 7-5 in the final set to Tomas Berdych.
If his good form continues here, he could yet sneak into the end-of-season finale - now the World Tour Finals in London - again.
I really can't see why he's 200/1 given his quarter features some big names who have struggled of late, namely David Ferrer, Tsonga and Kei Nishikori.
Certainly from a back-to-lay perspective, he looks worth a small play.
The same can be said of Lopez, who is in the third quarter with fourth seed Berdych, who is nursing a back problem, and Tokyo winner Juan Martin Del Potro, a man whose record in Masters events leaves a lot to be desired.
What I particularly like about Lopez is his decent 'course form' as he made the semis here in both 2009 and 2011.
He recently made the last eight in Bangkok, losing to Milos Raonic's sledgehammer serve, and earlier in the campaign made two ATP finals, so clearly is in fairly decent nick.
If he can take out Berdych in round two (that's if the Czech turns up OK), the draw will open right up and the Spaniard has an all-round game which is capable of troubling all those in this section.
If you side with these players, you do, of course, have to hope for one of the two market leaders to slip up somewhere along the line and be prepared for a potentially-agonising semi-final exit.
However, in my opinion both are overpriced and at least worthy of consideration.
- The tournament actually started on Sunday with a handful of first-round matches. However, the main action gets under way on Monday with the UK TV coverage starting then on Sky Sports.