The ATP World Tour continues on its European clay swing in week 18 with plenty of star names in action at the Masters 1000 level Mutua Madrid Open this week.
One notable absentee is world number one Novak Djokovic, who is taking the week off to rest after a busy schedule so far this season, but Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal are all due in Spain this week for the second clay Masters 1000 of 2015.
Conditions here at the Caja Magica tend to be on the quicker side due to the slight altitude in the Spanish capital, so the balls will fly off the strings more than at, say, Rome or Monte-Carlo.
The main draw of the men’s singles in this combined ATP/WTA event began on Sunday, but with only two ATP matches and there are 10 scheduled for Monday.
It was a soggy end to week 17 of the tour yesterday, with the Munich final suspended and carried over until today, so one of my two bets from Sunday is still in-play.
The other was a winner when the ‘sure thing’ wager of over 18.5 games in the Istanbul final was successful in a 6-3, 7-6 win for Roger Federer – his 85th career title and first on clay since here on the blue clay in 2012.
Feliciano Lopez vs Benjamin Becker
This 14:15 UK time start looks the most likely to me of the short priced shots to prove successful on Monday, with Lopez playing at home in Madrid against an opponent never comfortable on the clay.
Real Madrid fan Lopez made the last eight here a year ago and in theory the conditions at slight altitude should aid his serve and make it even more of a weapon than it already is.
Feli flopped last week in Estoril in poor style against Robin Haase, having served for the match twice and had match points, and he’ll be looking to do a lot better in this tournament.
The Madrid resident has beaten Becker in both of their previous meetings and while it wouldn’t surprise me if he made hard work of this it would surprise me if he didn’t win.
Becker’s only win here came over then 514 ranked Carlos Moya back in 2010 and he’s won five of his last 29 matches on clay going back to 2007 and he’s never beaten a leftie on clay at tour level.
Ernests Gulbis vs David Goffin
Ernie seems to me to be the most viable of the long shots on a day where most of the matches are priced up very tightly in Madrid, with only Gulbis, Becker and Adrian Mannarino available at 3.0 or better.
The last and only time that Gulbis faced Goffin the Latvian was a 1.30 shot on slow hard in Acapuclo last year and the emerged the winner in a final set tie break, but things have downhill rapidly for him this season.
One win all campaign and some wretched displays of tennis have seen him fall outside the top-20 and he has quarter final points to defend from last year this week that will, if not defended, see him slide down the rankings further.
He says that he prefers the quicker conditions here and should he find some of his old form he could easily have too much power for the often-disappointing Goffin.
Perhaps a few weeks of working with new coach Thomas Enqvist has made a difference to Ernie’s game and Goffin looks far from a solid choice to me, having won only four of his last 20 against top-25 ranked opponents.
A few days ago he was outplayed by Philipp Kohlschreiber after struggling past Simone Bolelli and sooner or later it will all click for Gulbis and he’ll win at a nice price. It could easily be today.
Sam Querrey vs Thanasi Kokkinakis
I’m not sure that the layers have it quite right about this match, with Querrey a 1.71 favourite at a tournament he has an awful record in against a hungry and determined young opponent.
Querrey’s price may well be based on his run to the final on ‘clay’ in Houston a few weeks ago, but the surface there is HarTru clay and conditions here are very different and take a bit of getting used to.
The American has failed to do that in the past here, with a 1-4 record on clay in Madrid, with his only win coming by way of retirement over Radek Stepanek back in 2009.
Querrey has lost 10 of his last 14 on clay in Europe and his enthusiasm for this is likely to be much lower than that of the up and coming Kokky, who battled past Janko Tipsarevic in qualies and has five sets of competitive tennis under his belt here in Madrid.
I’m happy to take the young Aussie as underdog in this one and he looks a bit of value at 2.08 here.
Sure thing: Back Lopez to beat Becker at 1.17
Value bet: Back Kokkinakis to beat Querrey at 2.08
Long shot: Back Gulbis to beat Goffin at 3.0