It was a fine start to the week for this column on Sunday, as my best bet was an easy winner on the clay at the Mutua Madrid Open. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor was a straight sets winner over Fran Schiavone and my handicap bet never really looked in any doubt.
Elsewhere there were shocks. Lucky loser Madison Keys, who stepped in when Tamira Paszek pulled out, took down Na Li in straight sets, while Caroline Wozniacki was not quite so surprisingly beaten by the improving Yaraslava Shvedova. Jelena Jankovic was taken down by Chanelle Scheepers, Roberta Vinci lost to Varvara Lepchenko, and Venus Williams withdrew from the tournament with a back injury.
Another big name who will be looking to avoid a shock herself is Vika Azarenka, who has a tough first match of the year on clay against last week’s Portugal Open champion, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Vika has been off the tour since withdrawing from Indian Wells due an ankle injury and it won’t be easy to hit the ground running first up against a player with the weapons that A-Pavs has. The latter is in great form under the keen eye of new coach Martina Hingis.
Last year’s Madrid finalist and number three seed Azarenka is not at her best on the red dirt and if Nastia continues the form she showed last week she could stun the Belarusian at odds of 5.75. After all, she has taken sets from Vika in each of their two most recent meetings on clay and hard courts.
More likely is that she’ll push Vika close and the world number three will find a way to win, but 1.14 is an awful price coming off an injury break and facing a top-20 opponent fresh off a title winning week. A +5.5 game handicap on Pavlyuchenkova looks a little generous and I’ll take that bet today at odds of 2.0.
Best bet: Back Pavlyuchenkova +5.5 games to beat Azarenka at 2.0