Friday at the Foro Italico on Rome sees the quarter finals of the last clay court Masters 1000 of the year at the Internazionali BNP d’Italia.
It’s been a rather tricky tournament to call so far and it threatened to get worse on Thursday thanks to a dismal effort from Stan Wawrinka and me choosing the wrong bet to oppose David Ferrer with.
Wawrinka looked like he’d rather be somewhere else again and even after going a set and a break up against a distinctly average opponent in Juan Monaco the Swiss never looked convincing and went down tamely in the end, as he has numerous times in Masters 1000s.
It was a first loss to Monaco in six meetings and also on the receiving end was Ferrer, who I said yesterday was likely to be tested by Lucas Pouille, but few could have foreseen a 6-4, 6-1 result in favour of the Frenchman coming.
But one thing I did foresee was Thomaz Bellucci taking a set against Novak Djokovic and finally ‘long shot’ backers got their reward when the Brazilian not only won a set, but handed the Serb his first ever opening set bagel defeat on clay.
That landed us a 4.10 winner, which was most welcome after some painful close losses, and hopefully the forecast rain will stay away so we can build on that result.
Lucas Pouille vs Juan Monaco
I’m not hugely confident that we’ll see a great deal of play, if any, in Rome on Friday, with the forecast saying it’ll rain all day on both Friday and Saturday.
Assuming we get some play at some point I can’t have Monaco as the favourite here and there seems to be some good value on the Frenchman in this scheduled 11:00 UK time start.
Pouille played well to make the final in damp conditions in Bucharest a few weeks back and he reached the semis as a qualifier in Hamburg last year on clay and it’s rarely fast there.
Indeed he beat Monaco in that Hamburg run and while Pico was pretty awful that day if I remember rightly it will still give great confidence to Pouille, who should have that in abundance at the moment anyway.
Ferrer was poor against Pouille on Thursday, but the Frenchman took his chance, as did Monaco against an equally poor Wawrinka, who spent most of the afternoon trying to outlast Monaco rather than playing his natural aggressive game.
For me Pouille has a bit more about his game than Monaco and after I said yesterday that Pouille had only twice served at 60 percent all season long he came out and almost did it again, reaching 59 percent on first serves in play.
If he repeats that sort of mark it’ll be a tough day for Pico, who has lost five of his last eight as a 1.70 to 1.80 favourite, and he looks a shaky favourite to me today.
Novak Djokovic vs Rafael Nadal
Djokovic was blitzed by the power of Bellucci early on in his match on Thursday, but I’d expect him to fire back on Friday by inflicting another defeat upon Nadal ahead of the French Open.
The world number one will benefit from having played a lefty in Bellucci and also the conditions are likely to be damp (if they play at all) and Nadal struggles to be as effective when his top spin forehand doesn’t spin as much in the damp.
So the Spaniard has to do it the hard way and it just doesn’t seem likely to me that he can get the better of Djokovic in these circumstances, even if the Serb has been below par so far this week in Rome.
We have seen Djokovic struggle against lower ranked players before and then come out and show his best form against his closest rivals and last year here in Rome he dropped sets to Bellucci, Nico Almagro and Kei Nishikori before the semi finals.
He didn’t drop a set after that against Ferrer and Roger Federer in the semis and final and if he is close to being fit something similar seems likely again, but he’s only done the Madrid/Rome double once, which was back in 2011.
It’s a tough ask to win the two very different clay tournaments back-to-back and in if we had hotter conditions I might give Nadal more of a chance in this 49th career meeting, but in the damp it’s a tall order.
Nadal came back well against Nick Kyrgios on Thursday from a set down, but it was hardly impressive, despite the Spaniard claiming: “I’m playing well, I feel like I am playing at the right level.”
I’m, not sure I agree that he’s playing at the right level to beat Djokovic, unless there is a physical issue with the Serb after Madrid, and the world number one seems a reasonable price for ‘sure thing’ backers on Friday.
Sure thing: Back Djokovic to beat Nadal at 1.32
Value bet: Back Pouille to beat Monaco at 2.23