The clay court action continues apace in week 16 of the ATP World Tour and we have another 16 matches on the schedule for Thursday in Bucharest and Barcelona.
Rain wiped out the day’s play at the BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy on Wednesday, but while the umbrellas were up in Bucharest we enjoyed a stress-free winner at the Barcelona Open thanks to Philipp Kohlschreiber.
The German easily covered the -2.5 games handicap in a 6-2, 6-1 romp against Pablo Carreno Busta in which the latter only held serve once and was broken six times.
Ivan Dodig looked like he might give the ‘long shot’ a chance when he led Feli Lopez, but having failed to serve out set one at *5-4 and failed in the tie break from *4-3 up the Croat ended up losing it on a double fault.
In round three of the Barcelona Open last year it was a round where all eight matches ended in straight sets and all bar one were won by the favourite. The one upset was a big one, with Fabio Fognini taking down Rafa Nadal, who was a 1.09 chance.
I’m not sure how much play we’ll get today in Barcelona, with the Spanish tournament the one likely to be on the receiving end of a downpour on Thursday.
Federico Delbonis vs Ilya Marchenko
This 11:00 approx. start in Bucharest should be the sort of comfortable opening to the week in Romania that Delbonis would have liked to get his campaign underway.
The Argentine was easy to oppose as favourite in Monte-Carlo last time out against Fernando Verdasco, having had no time to prepare after winning the Marrakech title two days prior, but he should be prepared for this one.
And he faces an opponent today who isn’t so comfortable on the clay, as his record of 2-9 at main level on this surface indicates, with one of those two victories coming this week in Bucharest.
Marchenko faced an opponent in round one equally uncomfortable on the clay in Dudi Sela, but he’ll find this is a far harder task and it should be a comfortable victory for Delbonis in a first career meeting between the pair.
Delbonis has posted a 15-8 record for the season so far and that Marrakech title came by way of four quick straight sets wins, which wouldn’t have taken that much out of him.
It’s hardly the best of prices at 1.16, but the can be doubled with Alexander Zverev, who surely will be too much on a clay court for Malek Jaziri, who is in virtually unchartered territory in the last-16 of a clay tournament for only the second time at main level.
The last occasion was in Bucharest last season when he was easily beaten by Jiri Vesely and another one of the younger generation in Zverev should take care of the Tunisian here.
The German made a bit of a pig’s ear of beating Thomaz Bellucci and in the end had to wait until late on in the third after failing to serve the match out in set two to get the win.
Zverev is yet to lose as a sub-1.30 favourite at main level, while Delbonis has only been this short once before and he too is yet to taste defeat as a sub-1.20 favourite, and the double pays around the 1.40 mark.
Jeremy Chardy vs Kei Nishikori
Nishikori has a perfect record here in the Catalan capital over the last two seasons, but that may have contributed to what seems a really skinny price of 1.18 on the Japanese star here.
This one is set for around 14:00 UK time and it will be the sixth main level meeting between this pair, who first clashed at the US Open Junior event way back in 2005 (when Chardy won) so they go back a long way.
As pros Nishikori has won three of the five career meetings in the past, but both of Chardy’s wins have come on clay, and their most recent clash on slow indoor hard in Bercy was tight, with two tie breaks in the opening two sets.
The Frenchman is handy on clay, where he can run around his backhand to crush his forehand and this slightly quicker clay aids his big serve too, so I wouldn’t rule him out of making this one close.
Chardy lost a tight one 7-5 in the third to Roberto Bautista-Agut in Monte-Carlo last week and he’s beaten Roger Federer on clay and played very well at the French Open last year before falling to Andy Murray in four sets.
I like the 2.08 about this one going over 9.5 games in set one and the over 20.5 games at 1.90, plus the 2.28 about +1.5 sets on Chardy also could work in this one.
Five of their six meetings have gone past 9.5 games in set one and the one that didn’t featured a tie break and went to three sets, so if Chardy serves well this could be a good workout for Nishikori.
Fabio Fognini vs Viktor Troicki
If the mercurial Italian is fit after his recent injury lay-off I’d fancy him to get the better of Troicki in this early start (weather permitting) in Barcelona.
The last two sets of his win over Mikhail Youzhny would suggest that he’s getting back to the sort of form that saw him beat Rafa Nadal here a year ago and also in Rio and New York last season.
It’s probably too early into his comeback to suggest that he could do that again at this moment in time, but he would play Nadal in the next round should he beat Troicki and that should be motivation for Fogna.
Troicki started the season very well, but has tailed off of late, with only one win (in three tie breaks) against a top-100 opponent since early February and he’s lost eight of his last 12 matches on clay.
For the ‘long shot’ on Thursday I like the 2-0 on Fognini combined with over 22.5 games in Kohlschreiber vs Lopez to make a 4.75 double.
Lopez has had the better of the career series against Kohlschreiber over the years and the German looks a tad short at 1.43 in this seventh clash with the Spanish lefty.
Kohlschreiber may have been a tad flattered by that thumping win over PCB, with the latter having had an early MTO in that match and if Lopez serves somewhere close to his best he can make this close.
Their career series, somewhat typically of the players themselves, is all over the place with no real patterns to it and it has the feel of a tight one, with a deciding set likely.
Elsewhere, Nadal brings an 81-7 record on clay against fellow Spaniards into his clash with Albert Montanes, who I said yesterday was a decent value pick against Joao Sousa.
Marcel Granollers was the latest Spaniard to obligingly roll over against Rafa and a comfortable 2-0 win for Nadal seems very likely, even if Nadal isn’t near his best.
Andrey Kuznetsov should beat veteran Radek Stepanek, but he’s short enough at 1.25, while over in Bucharest Damir Dzumhur should be too solid for Marco Cecchinato.
Sure thing: Back Delbonis and Zverev at 1.40
Value bet: Back over 9.5 games in set one of Chardy/Nishikori at 2.08
Long shot: Back Fognini to beat Troicki 2-0 and over 22.5 games in Kohlschreiber/Lopez at 4.75