Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray clash for the 33rd time on Sunday in the final of the 2016 Internazionali BNL d’Italia at the Foro Italico in Rome.
The streak of quick opening sets between Djokovic and Kei Nishikori continued on Saturday, but not the way that I expected, when it was Nishikori who took the first set of their Rome semi final 6-2.
Those on the under 9.5 games in set one would have still collected of course, but as I’d plumped for the -2.5 games on Djokovic we were miles away in the end.
Djokovic had to fight all the way to eventually come away with the win over the Japanese star in a final set tie break to set up a quick Masters 1000 rematch against Murray.
Novak Djokovic vs Andy Murray
So, at around 16:00 UK time we’ll see the second clash on clay in a week between Djokovic and Murray on the 29th birthday of the Scot, who will be back as world number two tomorrow.
Murray says he can’t remember winning a match on his birthday, but I can help him out there by revealing that he has actually won twice in the last 10 years on the 15th May.
He beat Jurgen Melzer here in 2014 and David Nalbandian in 2012, but he has had some rotten luck too, with retirements against Pippo Volandri, and Marcel Granollers, plus losses to Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro.
Will his luck change today? Well, it’s certainly been boosted by the late night finish for opponent Djokovic last night after a three-hour marathon of high quality tennis against Nishikori.
The Japanese had the match on his racquet in the final set tie break of that one, but blinked at 3-1 up and lost the next five points, largely due to unforced errors to give the Serb a helping hand into his 42nd Masters 1000 final.
It will be the seventh time that Djokovic has contested the final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and he’s a 1.40 chance to claim his 24th career win over Murray and a fifth on clay.
The Scot is yet to beat the Serb on clay, but only once has he failed to take a set and how much will the Nishikori and Nadal matches have blunted the Serb’s seemingly impenetrable defences?
Knowing Novak probably not that much, but the Serb has been put in at a far bigger price than the 1.25 or so that he was last week in the Madrid final and the last time that Djokovic was around this price Murray beat him in Canada.
Djokovic has a 38-5 record in Rome and with the Foro Italico seemingly being what he sees as ‘his stage’ and with a week off ahead of the French Open I can’t see the Serb lying down easily.
His powers of recovery are superhuman, as we’ve seen on many occasions, and notably here in Rome when he beat Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in the 2011 final after beating Murray in a final set breaker in the semi.
Djokovic had played 27 sets of clay court tennis in 18 days coming into that 2011 final, while this time it’s only 18 sets of clay court tennis in 10 days, so I wouldn’t be putting too much emphasis on the tiredness factor.
It may lead to another slow start by the Serb and set one to Murray looks a good option and I also like the over 117.5 total minutes, with all bar one of their clay clashes going to deciders.
Djokovic took 140-odd minutes to beat Nadal in two sets and it seems likely that he’ll find a way to win in the end, but the handicap betting is tough in matches between this pair and especially given the possible fatigue factor.
It may well be that Djokovic has to come from behind yet again to win, but he’s certainly been tested in all of his matches this week and another lengthy battle is expected today.
Value bet: Back over 117.5 total minutes at 1.90