Arguably the most watchable and intriguing of all rivalries in the sport of tennis plays out for the 37th time when Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic clash in Dubai on Saturday.
The superstar pair meet in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Championship, while David Ferrer and Kei Nishikori clash in Mexico and there’s the semi finals of the Argentina Open on the clay.
You know you’ve had a rough opening to the campaign when even world number one Djokovic can’t see things out from a 6-0, *2-1 lead against an opponent he’d previously beaten 15 straight times on a hard court.
That’s what happened on Friday at the Dubai Duty Free Championships when an incredible turnaround of fortunes did for my ‘sure thing’ wager of Djokovic to beat Tomas Berdych in straight sets.
I’m never comfortable when a player I’ve backed wins a set 6-0 and I always feel that it’s not far off being mandatory to cover when that happens such is the let down the next set.
Djokovic wouldn’t be expected to fall victim to it, but he did and in the end he was hanging on a bit, but came through in three.
In Buenos Aires, there was high drama for those on Pico Monaco, as the Argentine almost choked away his chances in his home tournament against Pablo Cuevas, but somehow got over the line in three painful sets of high drama.
But those who waited until the end of the day – indeed around 06:30 UK time – enjoyed a great winner when my 4.33 tip on Ferrer beating Ryan Harrison 2-1 came to fruition in Acapulco, with Ferrer bagelling the American in each of the last two sets.
Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer
This is by far my favourite of all the match-ups at the very top of the men’s game and Federer has every chance in conditions as quick in the ones they’ll encounter today in Dubai.
On what I would describe as quick outdoor hard courts Federer has won all three meetings with Djokovic since the 2011 US Open final – one in Cincy in 2012, the second here in Dubai a year ago and the other in Shanghai at the end of last season.
Consequently, Djokovic is only a moderate favourite at a price of around 1.50 today and after his performance against Berdych yesterday he’s hard to evaluate and, for me, not great value at that price against an opponent who revels in the conditions.
Talking of which, it will be cool and not too windy at 19:00 local time tonight, which to me means low, quick bounces which are tough to defend.
When Federer does beat Djokovic he does so convincingly and my long shot today is for Federer to take this one minus 2.5 games at 3.60.
In each of his last five wins over the Serb going back to 2012 the Swiss has won by at least a four game margin and in these conditions that looks like it has a shot of happening again on Saturday.
Rafael Nadal vs Carlos Berlocq
Saturday’s ‘sure thing’ centres around a seemingly back-to-form Nadal, who looked much better last night in Buenos Aires than he has all season and Federico Delbonis couldn’t do much about it.
That said, Delbonis was pretty awful, and didn’t put Rafa under any pressure whatsoever, while Berlocq could offer a little more tonight, but the latter lacks the firepower to beat Nadal.
Interestingly, Berlocq’s career record on clay against lefties is much better than against right-handers, with a 69 percent win ratio against left-handers to only 58 percent against righties.
He has taken a set from Rafa before and for what should be a cert under 0.5 breakers at 1.18 is it, with Rafa having played zero tie breaks on clay in each of his last 16 matches on the red dirt.
Only three times in his last 55 matches versus players ranked from 50-100 in the world has Nadal played a tie break, all of which actually makes 1.18 upwards seem decent value.
Kei Nishikori vs David Ferrer
That’s enough short prices for one day and my ‘long shot’ for Saturday is for the man with a supreme final set record to outlast the Energizer bunny Ferrer in a final set in Acapulco.
This match-up has been very good to Nishikori in recent times, with five wins in a row now against Ferrer, but the most recent one in Melbourne this year was aided a little by the Spaniard’s blooded feet.
It was also aided by the speed of the courts in Australia and conditions here in Acapulco are slow, which should bring Ferrer back into the equation.
Ferrer has had two long and exhausting weeks now after winning Rio and playing a total of 20 sets in brutal heat and humidity in the last 11 days.
Yes, Ferrer is one of the fittest players on tour, but even he has limits and this tight-looking clash should edge Nishikori’s way, with the Japanese having played 11 sets fewer than the Spaniard in the same time frame.
Nishikori has won 21 of his last 24 best of three matches that have gone to a decider, which is some record, and it’s well worth backing that to continue in this 03:00 UK time start tonight.
Finally, the one match I haven’t mentioned is Almagro vs Monaco and clearly I’ll be hoping that my 50-1 outright shot Monaco makes the final, but it’ll be tough against Nico.
If I weren’t involved outright I’d be siding with the 2-0 to Almagro here at 2.25, with tending to win his matches in straight sets.
Of his last 15 match wins Almagro has won 12 of them in straight sets and he’s beaten Monaco six times in the past, but Pico is really up for this and I hope I’m wrong with that suggestion.
Sure thing: Back no tie break in Nadal/Berlocq at 1.18
Value bet: Back Federer -2.5 games to beat Djokovic at 3.60
Long shot: Back Nishikori to beat Ferrer 2-1 at 4.0