Murray too big in Miami
Andy Murray is too big at 18/1 to win in what is effectively his home city of Miami, says our Andy Schooler.
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The ATP World Tour moves onto Miami this week for the Sony Open, which gets under way on Wednesday.
As in Indian Wells, the big guns all have byes to round two, which begins on Friday, so there's plenty of time to place your bets.
- 1pt e.w. Andy Murray at 18/1 (Spreadex) - proven track record in Miami so if a return to form is coming it's likely to happen here.
- 1pt e.w. Marin Cilic at 66/1 (Spreadex) - no-one has won more matches than the Croat this season; went close to beating eventual champ in Indian Wells.
- 0.5pt e.w. Fabio Fognini at 250/1 (bet365, Stan James) - Nadal worth opposing in top half & in-form Italian could go well at a big price.
The event has been dominated by two players in recent times with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray having won five of the last seven titles at Crandon Park.
Last week's winner Djokovic is the favourite at 7/4 but history suggests completing the Indian Wells-Miami double is a tough ask - it's happened just once in the last seven years, although the man to do it (in 2011) was the Serb.
He certainly wasn't at his best in California, dropping sets with worrying regularity, but he deserves enormous credit for coming through. Winning when not at your best is laudable and he's sure to be backed by some.
As will Murray in what is essentially his home tournament. The Scot practises here during the off-season and at other points during the year so knows the courts better than virtually anyone.
The Wimbledon champion has been below his best so far this season, still fighting his way back to top form following back surgery in September.
He was patchy at best in Indian Wells before losing to Milos Raonic.
However, he's never performed particularly well at that event. And, as already explained, it's a different kettle of fish in Miami where he won last year and in 2009. He also made the final in 2012.
His knowledge of the courts is a big plus and Murray himself feels he's not that far away from his best.
He's as short as 9/1 here and that's not a price I'd be touching. But double that is on offer elsewhere and that's one I'm prepared to get involved with given Murray's love of this place and his undoubted talent - surely it's only a matter of time before he's winning events like these again.
His biggest problem is the fact he's in the same quarter as fellow tournament specialist Djokovic. However, I'm not convinced the disparity in price shows the true width of the gap between the pair right now, so Murray is worth a small play.
The fact that the two dominant figures at this tournament in recent years are In the same quarter must mean there's a good opportunity for others to get a look in and possibly join the list of more surprising winners - Nikolay Davydenko and the now-retired Andy Roddick won the other titles in that seven-year period I mentioned earlier.
Heading to the top half in search of each-way value certainly seems to make sense given the bottom-heavy draw - Roger Federer and last year's runner-up David Ferrer are also in the Djokovic-Murray section.
Those of you who read my Indian Wells preview will know my theory about opposing the Big Four didn't exactly work out with bookies' favourite Djokovic beating Federer in the final.
Yet at the same time both Murray and Rafael Nadal did suffer early exits in California and in the way events unfolded there I saw enough to give some outsiders another go.
Nadal, top seed again here, was upset by Alexandr Dolgopolov, a result few saw coming, and doubts remain about whether he is 100 per cent fit following the back problem which struck him in the Australian Open final.
Even if he's totally fine, Miami is not really Nadal's territory. He's never won here with the Laykold surface having a lower bounce than some other hardcourts.
Concerns also surround his conqueror that day, Stanislas Wawrinka, who was another early loser in Indian Wells. After defeat to Kevin Anderson he spoke of mental fatigue - and he wouldn't be the first player to suffer a series of setbacks following a maiden Grand Slam triumph.
Of the other big seeds in the top half, Tomas Berdych proved a big letdown in Indian Wells, losing his opener, while Juan Martin Del Potro's wrist surely isn't in good enough shape to allow him to go all the way to the final here.
Essentially there are enough doubts to chance a couple of big outsiders and my men for the job are Marin Cilic and Fabio Fognini.
Cilic leads the tour for match wins this season with 20. His impressive form has brought him titles in Zagreb and, notably, Delray Beach which is just up the road from Miami. He also finished runner-up in Rotterdam with his new coaching relationship with Goran Ivanisevic clearly working well.
OK, the field here is much better than at any of those aforementioned tournaments but Cilic has shown he can compete with the best. He beat Murray in Rotterdam, while outdoors he won the first set of last week's quarter-final against Djokovic 6-1 before losing in three.
A look at his Miami record doesn't immediately give us huge encouragement but look closer and you'll find he's only ever lost to one player ranked outside the top 20 here so it usually takes a good man to beat him.
At 66/1, last year's quarter-finalist looks worthy of support.
Fognini is another player in good form - regular readers will have made a profit with him in Chile last month.
That was one the clay, on which he is more at home, but is more than capable of notching hardcourt wins these days and the conditions may well play into his hands.
The humidity means the balls fluff up more than at most other events and should result in longer rallies, something the grinding Italian will be happy with.
Fognini has been serving well of late which should give him a good chance to dictate those longer rallies.
Jerzy Janowicz, yet to find anything near his top form so far this year, is his first scheduled seeded foe, with the major worry being Nadal, a likely last-16 opponent.
Of course, these speculative bets in the top half are relying on Nadal slipping up, as he did in Indian Wells.
Lleyton Hewitt and Dimitry Tursunov both look likely to get a shot at Nadal before Fognini, but even if the pair do meet, it's worth suggesting that all is not lost given the 14th seed did take a set off Nadal when they last met - on a hardcourt in Beijing last autumn.
A minimum-stakes bet is advised at odds of 250/1.
- The action gets under way at 1500 GMT on Wednesday and is being televised live in the UK on Sky Sports from Friday.