The round of 16 is the order of the day at the Monte-Carlo Country Club on Thursday, as the ATP action hots up in the principality.
It’s been a dismal week so far and the luck again deserted us on Wednesday when Grigor Dimitrov failed to win the decider against Jan-Lennard Struff for our 2-1 wager to land.
The Bulgarian was odds-on to record a deciding set success at a set all, but he collapsed very disappointingly, with a slew of double faults and unforced errors and Struff picked up the pieces very well to land his first top-25 win on clay.
Other than Marin Cilic, who faced a Jeremy Chardy handicapped by a back injury, all the players that got a round one bye struggled – other than the one I fancied to have to work hard – which was Dominic Thiem.
He’ll have been delighted with his performance in dismissing Robin Haase and we move on to day five needing our outrights to come to our rescue a bit this week.
Tomas Berdych vs Marin Cilic
This 10:00 UK time start on Court des Princes looks another very tough one to call, but I like the value we’re being given on ‘no tie breaks’ in this 12th career meeting between the Czech and the Croat.
I said at the start of the week that mathematically it should be about 1.37 for ‘no tie breaks’ at this tournament, so the 1.80 that we’re getting today about that wager has to be taken.
Over the last 12 months on clay (12 matches) Berdych has played 0.03 tie breaks per set, while Cilic rarely plays tie breaks on any surface and has contested only tie break matches all season (13 matches).
In their head-to-head career series only one of their last eight sets against each other has gone to a breaker and all bar one of their clashes that did feature a tie break came on a slow court (here in 2012).
It’s tough to judge Cilic’s form based on Chardy claiming an injury, but he’ll be hoping that his luck has turned after a poor season so far that’s seen him win only five matches.
Indeed, that win over a hobbled Chardy was Cilic’s first victory in straight sets since beating Novak Djokovic in the Paris Masters last November.
Berdych has been very average so far this week, with narrow wins over Tommy Haas and Andrey Kuznetsov, so I wouldn’t like to be betting on the match odds here, with both players not at their best.
The service hold/break stats on clay give a slight advantage to Cilic at 112.8 (81.6% holds/31.2% breaks) to Berdych’s 108.0 over the last dozen matches for the Czech at main level and the last 10 for Cilic, who barely played on clay last year.
Jan-Lennard Struff vs Diego Schwartzman
The diminutive Argentine was excellent in taking down Roberto Bautista-Agut on Wednesday and he should be a level above Struff in this 16:00 (approx.) UK time clash on Court des Princes.
I said yesterday that there was little between Dimitrov and Struff on the clay court hold/break stats and so it proved, but Schwartzman is ahead of the German on those numbers.
Schwartzman will get broken reasonably often, but his return game is superb, with a break of serve percentage on clay at main level over the past year of 38.2%.
His 108 total trumps the 104.2 of the German and perhaps just as relevant is the style of play that Schwartzman brings, with considerably better movement than Struff and some of the angles he finds on a clay court are incredible.
He broke Roberto Bautista-Agut eight times on Wednesday, winning 61% of the points on the Spaniard’s serve, and reducing RBA to 43% of first serve points won an 27% of second serve points won.
This, of course is a different kind of challenge from the big hitting Struff, but the latter has struggled against opponents under 5’10” in height, with a 1-4 record at main level and 3-7 versus top-100 players in that height bracket.
Struff’s win over Dimitrov, as well as being the first time he’s beaten a player ranked better than 30 in the world on clay, improved his record to a still poor 3-13 versus top-50 opposition at main level.
The Argentine to win this one -3.5 games on the handicap or to win it in straight sets are the ones of interest here.
Elsewhere, Andy Murray should improve for his first match for some time and win a first career clash against Albert Ramos, but the Spaniard will surely make Murray work hard for it and overs is quite possible there.
Novak Djokovic will need to improve too, as he also faces a Spaniard who gets a lot of balls back into play, and Pablo Carreno Busta may not be easy for Novak to shake off either.
Rafa Nadal also faces a potentially testing day against the in-form Alexander Zverev, who has given Rafa all he can handle in their two career clashes on hard courts.
Another 2-1 win for Nadal, who was tested by Kyle Edmund on Wednesday could be the play here as a 3.75 shot.
My other outright this week, Stan Wawrinka, faces what will surely be at attractive match to watch against another single-handed rightie in Pablo Cuevas and it’s his poor record against top-10 opponents that lets Cuevas down.
He’s just 1-8 on clay versus top-10 opposition and it’ll be very disappointing if Stan doesn’t come through in a first career meeting between the pair.
1 point win ‘no tie breaks’ in Berdych/Cilic at 1.80
1 point win Schwartzman to beat Struff 2-0 at 2.25