Round three of the 2016 Monte-Carlo Masters takes place on Thursday in Monaco, with plenty of star quality on show today in the principality.
There are a few notable absences though after a day of shocks on Wednesday saw Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and Alexander Zverev all short-priced losers on the day.
We managed to find a few decent ones on Wednesday, with Aljaz Bedene covering the handicap against Rafa Nadal and set one overs in Stan Wawrinka and Philipp Kohlschreiber.
But a really limp display from Berdych, who appeared unwilling to hit through the ball allowed the pushing of Damir Dzumhur to score a big win over the wasteful Czech, who had his chances, despite being well below par.
And Pablo Cuevas had his opportunities too, against Milos Raonic, but after coming all the way back from a set down (a set he led in) to a final set tie break and scoring more points in the match he lost at the death.
Round three at the Monte-Carlo Country Club last year yielded three underdog winners from eight matches on bad day for the Swiss, as Wawrinka and Roger Federer were both beaten as 1.64 and 1.28 shots, while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was also a beaten favourite.
Roger Federer vs Roberto Bautista-Agut
Hopefully lightning won’t strike twice for the Swiss maestro, as he continues his comeback from injury against an opponent he is yet to face on clay, but against whom he has a fine record on other surfaces.
Federer is yet to be extended beyond 10 games in any of the 10 sets he’s played against RBA on grass and outdoor hard courts and the former world number one will surely have the edge in terms of energy in this one.
Bautista-Agut has played a ton of tennis this season and he was at it again the other day in a nigh on three-hour marathon against Jeremy Chardy, while Fed has played two sets since January.
I said earlier in the week that clay isn’t the best surface for RBA and while the same can be said of Federer too the consistent striking of the Spaniard is unlikely to be enough to cause an upset.
The forehand of Bautista-Agut has become more of a weapon this year under the guidance of new/old coach Pepe Vendrell but it’s not as effective on clay and he’s up against one of the best forehands of all-time today.
Against top-five ranked opponents RBA has struggled, with a 2-14 record overall, and the two wins were against Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro.
He’s 0-6 against top-10 ranked opponents on clay and 3-8 against top-20 ranked opposition on the red dirt and now that Novak Djokovic is out of the tournament Federer will be eyeing a first career win in Monte-Carlo.
I can’t see him losing to RBA and I’ll take the Swiss as today’s ‘sure thing’, with Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and David Goffin other candidates for that bet today.
Gilles Simon vs Stanislas Wawrinka
This 12:00 approx. UK time clash between the Frenchman and the Swiss is one of few matches on Thursday where the underdog holds a reasonable amount of appeal.
The pair have met six times at all levels over the years, with three wins apiece, and only once in those six matches has the favourite won and that was the most recent one at the French Open last season.
That match was played in heavy, slow conditions and Wawrinka was able to hit through the surface a lot more effectively than Simon, which led to a convincing win for the Swiss, but he won’t get those conditions on Thursday.
That’s according to the forecast at least, which predicts a sunny day, and it seems likely to me that there’ll be at least a period of this match where Stan’s radar isn’t quite in tune and Simon can and will take advantage.
Simon has already shown his ability to nullify a shot-maker in Grigor Dimitrov this week and he’ll have figured out exactly what he has to do against Wawrinka in painstaking detail.
Wawrinka might well have to do this the hard way and the over 9.5 games in set one appeals again, as does the over 22.5 games at 1.95 and the over 2.5 sets at 2.38.
But the 2-1 to Wawrinka looks a very tempting ‘long shot’ for Thursday at 3.95 in the absence of any match betting prices that appeal (Dominic Thiem aside).
His extra ability to hit winners when it matters should just about give him the edge here, but he’ll have to play well and anything less probably won’t do for Wawrinka today.
Gael Monfils vs Jiri Vesely
Kudos to anyone that knows off the top of their head and without checking the identity of the only other left-hander than Rafa Nadal to ever have beaten Gael Monfils on clay?
The answer, of course, is Brian Dabul at the French Open Junior tournament way back in 2002 and the Frenchman has never lost at senior level to any other lefty than Rafa.
Lamonf’s record is 12-5 at senior level versus lefties on clay, with all five losses coming to Nadal, but as that record shows he hasn’t played that many, with his clash with Gilles Muller here this week his first against a lefty on clay for almost three years.
Monfils has had a solid season and it seems pretty unlikely that Vesely will back that stunning win over Djokovic up with another victory over a top player on Thursday.
The enigmatic Frenchman has a 28-4 record on clay at main level when priced as a 1.30 favourite or shorter and the last four non-Grand Slam winners that beat Djokovic as world number one have lost in their next match.
Feli Lopez this season; Ivo Karlovic in Doha last season; Kei Nishikori in the 2014 US Open; and Tommy Robredo in Cincy the same summer were all beaten next up and the same fate seems likely to befall Vesely.
There’s no contest in terms of mobility between the two and on clay the artistry of Monfils should be able to expose the poor movement of Vesely, whose serve will need to be at its very best again.
That win over Novak will surely lead to a let down on Thursday and under 21.5 games at 1.94 or Monfils -4.5 games look good value here.
Sure thing: Back Federer to beat Bautista-Agut at 1.20
Value bet: Back under 21.5 games in Monfils/Vesely at 1.94
Long shot: Back Wawrinka to beat Simon 2-1 at 3.95