0.5pt e.w. Fabio Fognini in Barcelona Open at 40/1 (Coral, Ladbrokes 1/3 1,2)
1pt e.w. Federico Delbonis in Serbia Open at 50/1 (Unibet 1/5 1,2)
Taking on Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo last week proved the right thing to do but sadly this column’s picks failed to take advantage.
Cristian Garin, at a whopping 250/1, had a chance when the draw opened up but he lost to eventual champion Stefanos Tsitsipas at the last-16 stage.
Punters face a similar oppose-or-not decision this week with both Nadal – here in Barcelona – and Djokovic (in Belgrade, see below) quickly back in action.
Both will want to put the disappointment of last week firmly behind them as they bid to build momentum on the road to Roland Garros which begins at the end of next month.
Nadal heads to Barcelona, where he has won no fewer than 11 times, following defeat to Andrey Rublev in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals.
The heavier evening conditions didn’t help the Spaniard in that match-up but the scheduling at what is effectively his home tournament is unlikely to be unkind this week.
The weather is also expected to be drier and a tad warmer, albeit a maximum of 18C is hardly scorching.
While clearly worthy of favouritism, odds-on quotes about Nadal aren’t for me given the quality of this field.
The 500-level tournament has attracted nine of the world’s top 20, as well as all eight of the quarter-finalists from Monte Carlo.
Nadal’s draw includes either two-time champion Kei Nishikori or Garin in round three and David Goffin in the last eight. Potential semi-final opponents include Djokovic’s Monte Carlo conqueror Dan Evans, David Goffin, Pablo Carreno Busta and FABIO FOGNINI.
In what is a tournament packed with quality, this is a quarter I quite like given it looks the weakest of the four.
Fognini showed glimpses of his best in Monte Carlo last week, winning three matches in straight sets before falling to Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals.
We all know the Italian is hardly Mr Reliable but this is his time of year and he’s twice made the quarter-finals here.
Significantly, his 2015 run here included victory over Nadal – one of three red-dirt wins over the King of Clay.
Carreno Busta and Schwartzman, a player who lost his first match in Monte Carlo last week, are the two players seeded higher than Fognini in this quarter so he’s got a decent-looking draw and could make waves at 40/1.
For those too worried about Nadal, Sky Bet are up with quarter betting and make Fognini a 10/3 shot.
It’s also worth noting that the same firm offer half the odds for a place. With Nadal odds-on, others are going a third.
Usually I’d look for some each-way value in the opposite half to Nadal but given the talent in the bottom section, it’s hard to see a surprise candidate emerging.
The clear favourites are the two Monte Carlo finalists – Tsitsipas and Rublev.
The former has the better draw and really should come through quarter four, provided he’s up for this after his efforts on the Cote d’Azur. To be fair, the Greek was bullish about his energy levels after his semi-final win there.
Tsitsipas was runner-up here three years ago and looked very much happy to be back on the clay last week. The seeds in this section – Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur – should hold little fear.
I’d prefer him over Rublev at around the same price of 7/1 with the Russian’s draw looking tougher.
Jannik Sinner (beaten by Djokovic last week) and Roberto Bautista Agut are both in his quarter, although at least he’s seen Ruud withdraw post-draw.
Rublev requested a wild card here only a few days ago and does tend to play a lot so he’s probably going to give it a good go this week but I do wonder if last week’s physical and mental efforts (including that win over Nadal and the disappointment of final defeat) will have an effect.
I could make cases for the likes of Sinner (22/1) but I’m in no way confident that upsets will occur here and am happy to leave this section alone.
Novak Djokovic described last week’s defeat to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo as “probably one of the worst matches and performances from my side I can recall in the last years”.
I have few doubts he’ll bounce back this week though with this tournament the ideal platform on which to do so.
Djokovic is back in his homeland here, with the Serbia Open returning to the ATP Tour calendar for the first time since a four-year run from 2009-2012.
The world number one played in three of those tournaments, winning two and retiring injured from the other.
A look at his Davis Cup record also shows how he invariably performs on home soil – Djokovic has won 19 of his last 20 Davis Cup singles matches in Serbia, the one defeat again coming via injury withdrawal.
The last time he lost a completed tour-level match in his native country was in 2005.
The venue this week is his very own Novak Tennis Center in Belgrade, one many will remember for hosting one of last year’s ill-fated Adria Tour events.
It has also hosted a Challenger tournament over the past week – won by Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena, who at time of writing is involved in qualifying.
In short, this tournament looks very much Djokovic’s to lose – and with a first-round bye he only needs to win four matches to claim the title.
The withdrawal of Dominic Thiem has left the home favourite no bigger than 3/4 to do that. Only one other member of the world’s top 25 is here – and Matteo Berrettini is still feeling his way back after injury disrupted his start to 2021.
Aslan Karatsev is perhaps the biggest threat to Djokovic – he’s a potential semi-final opponent – but I fully expect a fully-focused performance from the local boy this week and another title added to his collection.
The betting approach is therefore to head to the bottom half of the draw where Berrettini resides.
A host of Serbs will fancy their chances with Dusan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic the most likely candidates. They lost to Evans and Fognini respectively in Monte Carlo last week, the latter making it to the last 16.
Still, with neither man’s price screaming value, I’m going to take both on in the shape of FEDERICO DELBONIS.
The Argentine is likely to be Lajovic’s first opponent and he leads the home hope 5-2 in their overall head-to-head series – it’s 2-1 on this clay surface.
While Lajovic has played just that Evans match on clay since the autumn, Delbonis has spent the majority of his season so far (14 of 16 matches) on the surface.
He made the semis in Santiago last month and last week in Monte Carlo won three matches as he came through qualifying before losing to Nadal – no disgrace there.
Delbonis has delivered at this time of year in the past – one of his two ATP titles came in April in Marrakech, while he’s also made spring clay finals in Hamburg and Nice.
With Aussie John Millman the other seed in this quarter and Berrettini far from certain of reaching the semis, Delbonis looks a lively each-way option.
All four qualifiers will be placed in the top half so there are no unwelcome surprises to come on that front.
He is offered at 50/1 by Unibet, who are among the firms paying half the odds for a place in the final.
Published at 1700 BST on 18/04/21
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