The second Masters 1000 tournament of the year on clay is the Madrid Open in La Caja Magica (The Magic Box) with Alexander Zverev set to defend his title.
The first clay-court Masters event of 2019 - the Monte Carlo Masters - saw shocks aplenty with Fabio Fognini defeating Dusan Lajovic in the final. It was the biggest singles triumph of the Italian’s career and came after he beat Rafael Nadal in the semis in what was a big shock to the tennis betting world.
The King of Clay described that reverse as “one of my worst matches on clay in 14 years”. He then went to Barcelona, another tournament he has won 11 times previously, and departed in the last four. This was an altogether different affair as Dominic Thiem played superbly to win on the ‘Pista Rafael Nadal’.
Nadal - who has won this tournament 'only' five times - insists his run in Barcelona was a step forward but, even at 13/8 with Ladbrokes, he is too short to back in the Spanish capital where he fell to Thiem in the quarter-finals 12 months ago.
Last year, Nadal looked slightly jaded after winning in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He should be fresh this time but I saw this interesting infographic last week.
Breaking it down, Nadal usually hits three consecutive forehands after his serve just over 50 percent of the time on clay. This year, he’s not even managing 20 percent. This means he's either not moving well enough to be able to run around his backhand and unleash that devastating forehand or his flatter serve unveiled at the Australian Open is not giving him enough time to run around said backhand. There is also a possibility it's a combination of the two.
Anyway, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Spaniard’s forehand to see what shape he’s in, and it's definitely something key an eye on when considering your tennis betting strategy. He can’t afford a sluggish start as he comes up against Canadian upstart Felix Auger-Aliassime in his opening match.
One of the biggest challenges for Nadal this clay season is finding a forehand on the first shot after the serve. Why?— TennisNerds (@TennisNerdsBlog) April 30, 2019
➡️ Opponents are able to find the backhand easier
➡️ Nadal is not as aggressive with his footwork to run around his backhand#Nadal#tennisstats#datavizpic.twitter.com/avp9fCxcvb
Like Monte Carlo, there are 56 players in the main draw so we’re restricted to outright bets. Top seed Novak Djokovic has had a couple of weeks off since going out to Daniil Medvedev in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals, his best showing since winning the Australian Open in January.
The Serb is a two-time Madrid winner but missed last year’s tournament through injury. He is available at 3/1 with Betfair, but it’s hard to recommend him based on what we’ve seen lately.
The same goes for reigning champion Zverev who went out to Christian Garin in the quarter-finals in Munich last Friday. Bar reaching the final in Acapulco, the German has failed to make a semi-final this season. However, he does warrant respect and if he does find form the 22/1 offered by Unibet could look big.
Roger Federer plays in his first clay event since 2016. The Swiss has won three times in Madrid, each time on a different surface - hard in 2006, red clay in 2009, and in 2012 when blue clay was used for the only time. Since going out in the Australian Open quarters, the 37-year-old has won in Dubai and Miami (his 101st tournament victory) and was runner-up at Indian Wells.
A quick note on this week’s conditions. As a Madrid resident, I went to the tournament two years ago and watched the action on the two secondary courts, Estadio 2 (Arantxa Sanchez) and Estadio 3. What struck me was how much they felt like being indoors. The main court isn’t as enclosed while the four other tournament courts (and five practice courts) are clearly outdoors.
If you check out aerial photos like here on the tournament website - you’ll see what I mean. It’s a far cry from the open air of Roland-Garros or Monte Carlo. While the pace is probably unaffected - the main Estadio Manolo Santana has a similar speed to Monte Carlo and Rome - the lack of wind allows attacking players to go for their shots. So before the semis and final, you may find players not noted for their clay-court prowess doing some damage.
But going back to Federer, his only two Masters wins on clay have both come in Madrid - another indication of the different conditions here. He’s 16/1 among the top tennis betting sites, but I find it hard to see him going far having been away from the surface for so long.
The only main contender I haven’t assessed so far is Dominic Thiem. The Austrian has shown he’s operating at the peak of his powers with wins at Indian Wells and Barcelona this season. He has been runner-up for the last two years in Madrid, losing to first Nadal and then Zverev 12 months ago.
Along with Federer, Thiem is the form player on tour. He faces a potential test against Fognini in round three but I’m not convinced the Italian can follow up his Barcelona success, while Federer is the likely quarter-final opponent.
His confidence should be sky-high having beaten Nadal in Barcelona and I am surprised to see him at odds bigger than 4/1. With odds of 11/2 with Royal Panda, he’s a more than fair each-way price.
The other man I’m tempted to chuck a couple of quid at this week is Kei Nishikori. After a couple of miserable seasons, the Japanese showed flashes of his best in reaching the semi-finals in Barcelona. This is a venue which suits him - he retired with a back injury against Nadal in the 2014 final and reached the semis the next two years. At 40/1 with Royal Panda, he’s worth a small each-way bet as he seeks that elusive first Masters title.
Juan Martin del Potro returns to action after his abortive comeback at Delray Beach in February following four months off with a fractured kneecap. He has never reached a Masters final on clay and I don't expect him to start now so even the 50/1 with Betfair makes little appeal.
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