The European clay swing begins for many this week on the ATP World Tour, with the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters in the opulent surroundings of the Monte-Carlo Country Club.
We’re coming off back-to-back good-priced semi final losers in our outrights and hopefully we’ll enjoy some better fortune in week 16 of the tour, a week that sees Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic return.
The top two ranked players in the world missed Miami with injuries and it would appear from looking at the draw that Djokovic has the trickier half, with Rafa Nadal likely to post a tough challenge at a tournament the Spaniard has won on no fewer than nine previous occasions.
Djokovic has won it just the twice, Murray never and Stan Wawrinka once and it’s the latter that looks to be the best wager this week at a price of around the 8.0 mark.
The 2014 champion and French Open champ of 2015 enjoys conditions here, where he holds a 70% winning record (Murray 64%, Djokovic 78%, Nadal 94%) and with no Roger Federer to get in his way this week Wawrinka has the draw to go deep again.
Stan’s quarter has only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille that pose an obvious threat and that would be a quarter final clash when the Swiss should be approaching his best form.
Then it would be a semi final against Murray, who has never bettered the last four in Monte-Carlo, and Stan has a 3-1 head-to-head lead over the Scot on clay.
Murray has been out with an elbow injury and it looks a tall order for him to achieve his best ever result at this tournament after no match time for over a month.
He also might have to face an opponent he almost always struggles with and that’s Philipp Kohlschreiber, who Murray would meet in round three, assuming both men get that far.
Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic, along with Marrakech finalist Borna Coric, are also in Murray’s section, along with Albert Ramos, who Murray has never faced, but Kohlschreiber and Wawrinka look the two most likely to defeat the Scot.
The third quarter is Nadal’s and the Spaniard may face an early test from Alexander Zverev in round three, but other than that we’re looking at a peak form Grigor Dimitrov to provide the toughest test for Rafa in that section.
Djokovic’s quarter looks fairly straightforward if the Serb is fully fit after his own elbow injury and he seemed to be in Davis Cup a couple of weeks ago, with probably only a peak form Dominic Thiem or Fabio Fognini likely to pose problems.
It would appear that we’re set for a first Djokovic/Nadal clash for almost a year, with their last meeting coming in Rome when the Serb was a narrow winner and on all 2017 form so far Nadal should make it tough for Djokovic again.
The Monte-Carlo Masters is another event where non-major winners or finalists tend not to win, with the last man not to have made a major final that did win Monte-Carlo being Andrei Chesnokov back in 1990 (and he’d made the semis of the French the year before).
On that trend our winner will be one of Murray, Djokovic, Nadal, Wawrinka, Berdych, Tsonga or Cilic, but then isn’t that always the case in these Masters 1000s?
Berdych looked to be hitting the ball well again and he should have beaten Roger Federer in Miami from a set down, but blinked with the winning line in sight, but on that form 50-1 looks decent at an event where he made the final as recently as 2015.
And he only lost in a decider to Djokovic in that final, so he has enjoyed conditions here recently and he does still have a 3-1 career series lead over Murray on clay.
The Brit has dominated that match-up of late, winning the last seven, but Federer had a similar record against Berdych and was a point away from defeat in Miami.
There’s definitely grounds to take Murray on here and Wawrinka and Berdych look the two best qualified to side with.
2 points win Wawrinka at 8.0
1 point each-way Berdych at 50.0