There’s only one man to start with when it comes to the Monte-Carlo Masters, and his name is Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard claimed his 11th title in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, actually just on the French side of the border, last year and he’s best price at even money to make it number 12.
Nadal has sat out the last six weeks after pulling out ahead of his semi-final with Roger Federer at Indian Wells with a recurrence of a right knee injury. He had played particularly well up to that point but slow hard courts, while suiting his game, take their toll on his suspect knees and his hopes of a fourth title in the California desert came to a premature end.
He started the year by reaching the final of the Australian Open, going down in straight sets to Novak Djokovic. And the 32-year-old had the misfortune of running into eventual winner Nick Kyrgios on a going day in Acapulco. But there is nothing to suggest his powers are fading, and he won this tournament last year having been sidelined since the Australian Open.
While I find it hard to see Nadal beaten this week on typically slow clay, you don’t need anyone to tip up an even money shot. Obviously, we’re taking his fitness on trust, but he has come back from longer injury lay-offs and won. Taking short prices isn’t my bag in tennis betting, but I do think even money is generous. If you’re going to oppose him, this isn’t the place to do it.
And I’ve managed to find a bet for the undisputed King of Clay. In 2016, Nadal dropped just two sets all tournament - one to Andy Murray (absent) in the semis, the other to Gael Monfils (also absent). In 2017, he dropped just the one - inexplicably in his opener against Kyle Edmund after bageling the Briton. And last year he did not drop a set throughout the entire week.
In the bottom half of the draw, only Alexander Zverev looks a threat and he has been below his best so far this season. In fact, the German faces a tough potential second-round clash with Felix Auger-Aliassime who has been one of the revelations of 2019. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the odds for that one if the Canadian youngster gets through his opener with Juan Ignacio Londero.
In the top half, world number one Djokovic struggled for form in the States and I see Indian Wells champion Dominic Thiem as a more likely finalist. But can he take a set off Nadal in Monte Carlo? I suspect not, and I’m happy to take the 7/2 with Paddy Power and Betfair that Nadal wins again without dropping a set.
Monte Carlo is the only non-mandatory Masters tournament with Roger Federer the biggest name giving it a swerve. Miami runner-up John Isner is out with a stress fracture of his left foot which will keep him out until May. And an Achilles injury sustained at Indian Wells has not healed sufficiently for Monfils to play.
Sadly, there are fewer markets for us to look at here with just 56 players in the main draw (compared to 96 at Indian Wells and Miami). It means I’m restricted to considering some small speculative each-way punts. Auger-Aliassime was tempting but Nadal would surely prove too strong in the semis. So I’m looking at the top half and Diego Schwartzman.
The diminutive Argentine fell to Nadal in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals in 2017, and has beaten Thiem this year on clay in Buenos Aires. He can be inconsistent but, on his day, he is a match for anyone on the red stuff. He could do better than his odds - 100/1 with BetVictor - suggest, and we’ll know our fate quickly as he faces Kyle Edmund on Monday afternoon.
That said, if you can find any tennis betting sites offering prices for Auger-Aliassime and Schwartzman to win their respective quarters then think about getting involved. The same goes for any prices about a Nadal-Thiem final.
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