Question marks equal Rome value
Our Andy Schooler previews this week's Rome Masters and has two big-priced, each-way fancies.
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After a bit of a dodgy spell, Rafael Nadal's performances in Madrid over the past week have re-established his position as a firm favourite for the forthcoming French Open.
He appeared to rediscover his consistency in the Spanish capital and will rightly start as favourite for this week's Masters 1000 event in Rome - one he has won no fewer then seven times.
Going back-to-back hasn't been a problem for him in the past, although potential backers may have concerns about his body - the Spaniard having admitted a lack of confidence in it since the back problem which struck him in the Australian Open final.
While he's clearly the most likely winner here, you have to feel if you didn't get on him in Madrid at 11/8 - as my colleague Tim Clement recommended - then you may have missed the value.
He's back to his regular odds-on claycourt price this week and it's not one I'm prepared to tip up.
Instead the value looks to be backing someone each way in the bottom half of the draw, one which sees Novak Djokovic return to action after the wrist problem which affected him in Monte Carlo.
At the time - when I was fuming having backed him! - it was suggested the injury could see the Serb miss the rest of the claycourt season. That doesn't appear to be the case but I don't want to be backing anyone with a wrist problem when they are no bigger than 3/1.
There has to be a good chance the problem is either still affecting Djokovic or flares up again in what are always pretty slow conditions at the Foro Italico. He certainly won't want it heavy this week and will be hoping to sun shines.
Roger Federer is also in town after missing Madrid to be at the birth of his latest set of twins. On his weakest surface in a week where he may have other things on his mind, I'm again more than happy to swerve at prices as short as 6/1.
So who to turn to in this half then?
Well, I like a couple at big prices who could follow in the footsteps of Stanislas Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori by reaching a claycourt Masters finals.
The first is Ernests Gulbis, who is quite frankly playing the best tennis of his career right now.
He won in Marseille early in the season and then made the last eight in Indian Wells.
Having moved onto the clay he reached the semis in Barcelona before losing to Nishikori and then last week beat good players in Jerzy Janowicz, Alexandr Dolgopolov and Marin Cilic before losing a tight match in the quarter-finals to David Ferrer.
The Latvian has also played well in Rome before. He beat Roger Federer en route to the semi-finals in 2010 and last year made the last 16 as a qualifier. On both occasions it took Nadal to stop his progress - and he even took the first set 6-1 against the world number one 12 months ago.
He's landed in a decent section. A rematch with Nishikori is scheduled for round one but it would be no surprise to see the Japanese withdraw given he's got a lot of tennis in his legs from the last few weeks and has also been receiving plenty of treatment in Madrid. Even if he does show, Gulbis will fancy his chances of revenge.
Djokovic is a possible quarter-final foe but, as already explained, I'm happy to oppose him - especially when you see Gulbis is out at a tasty 100/1.
Dolgopolov is my other man for this week.
After a strong start to the campaign which has seen him beat two of the world's top three in Nadal and Wawrinka, it's been a little disappointing to see 'the Dog' fail to make an impact on the European clay thus far.
However, don't make the mistake of thinking this simply isn't his surface. He has won a title on it before and made the final in Rio de Janeiro a couple of months ago, only losing to Nadal.
Given how well he had been playing in 2014 I think a good week is likely to arrive soon.
And looking at his kind draw, this could be it.
Seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is Dolgopolov's first opponent but the Frenchman has endured a poor season so far and won't be relishing the slice-and-dice tennis the Urkainian brings to the court.
The same can be said of Milos Raonic, who will do well to reach their projected third-round meeting given he's never won a match in Rome.
Federer could then await in the quarter-finals but, as suggested, there are reasons to feel the Swiss might not be totally focused this week.
Dolgopolov's odds don't, in my opinion, fairly reflect his chances so I'll take a small slice.
youwin offer 150/1 win-only but with Nadal likely to reach the final, I want an each-way price so will settle for the 80/1 on offer elsewhere.
- The action actually got under way on Sunday with six main-draw matches. However, none of the players considered above were in action. Things get into full flow on Monday when the UK TV coverage on Sky Sports also begins