Our Andy Schooler expects Belgium's David Goffin to thrive this week as the claycourt season moves to the Eternal City.
Recommended bets: ATP Rome Masters
I suggested in my opening Masters 1000 preview of the season – Indian Wells – that a power shift was looking possible in tennis in 2017.
While we have seen Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic replaced as the best players – certainly on form if not (yet) in the rankings – I’ll freely admit I hadn’t expected Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to fill the void.
Yet it is that duo who have between them swept the board at the five tournaments so far.
While a critic would undoubtedly slate me for that, much of the theory has proved correct with numerous new faces (and big prices) featuring in the latter stages of the Masters events.
In Indian Wells, my 150/1 each-way shot Jack Sock made the semis, as did Pablo Carreno Busta. Fabio Fognini made the last four in Miami, Albert Ramos-Vinolas did so in Monte Carlo, while Pablo Cuevas and Dominic Thiem made breakthroughs of their own at this level in Madrid last week.
The ATP stars hot-foot it this week from Madrid to Rome for the next Masters event – and the last big tournament before the French Open.
I wrote ahead of Madrid that Nadal would be a better bet in Italy than in his homeland. The slower conditions suit him more here and weaken the strengths of several potential opponents.
He’s going off shorter, 11/10, and I’m very tempted to take that given the way the Spaniard is playing right now.
Victory over Dominic Thiem on Sunday saw him complete the single-season treble of Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid for the first time in his career.
It’s not fair to say he hasn’t been tested at times – Kyle Edmund and Fabio Fognini both put up considerable fights against the king of clay – but Nadal has passed every test of the claycourt season so far.
My concern would be he’s attempting more history this week – he’s never previously played Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome in the same season, never mind won all four.
With the French Open the real goal, does Nadal need an eighth Rome title? The answer is no but that’s not to say he won’t be giving his all in the Italian capital.
Is basically a question of whether you are prepared to take that risk at a shade of odds-against.
I’ll duck out on this occasion given my approach is largely to look for good value bets and the one to catch the eye this week is David Goffin at 33/1.
A look at the Rome draw throws up plenty of similarities to the one which was pulled out of the hat in Madrid – Murray and Stan Wawrinka are the main men in the top half; Nadal and Djokovic in the bottom.
One significant difference, however, is that Goffin is this week in the top section, away from Nadal (whom he gave a really good match in the quarter-finals in Madrid). Thiem is the unlucky one, dropping into the Rafa section; the pair could meet again in the last eight.
Goffin has been playing some fine stuff, as anyone who saw him against Nadal will know. He also beat Djokovic in Monte Carlo where he made the semis.
That’s strong claycourt form and there aren’t too many in the top half who can boast that.
The way he’s playing, Murray simply has to be opposed again despite the fact that he’s the defending champion here. I can actually make a strong case for that being a negative as the Scot is now very much in a period when he’s going to see his number one ranking start to slip – he has many ranking points to defend at present.
Of more concern is the fact he’ll play the enigmatic Fognini in his opener. He’s come closer than anyone to beating Nadal on clay this season and so should arrive at his home event with confidence pretty high.
The downside for the Italian is he’s got a poor record in Rome, winning just five of 14 matches, a fact that puts me off siding with him at 80/1 in the outright market.
Still, at around 5/2 I think he’s still a decent shout to take out Murray and I couldn’t be getting involved with the British star in the outrights.
Wawrinka continued to disappoint anyone prepared to back him at Masters level last week. That number does not include me and the Swiss should be taken on again.
Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic are both seeded higher than Goffin in the top half but their big serves were better suited for Madrid and I’ll happily back the retrieving skills of the Belgian ahead of those two in these conditions.
He’s made the quarter-finals at the Foro Italico in each of the last two seasons with wins over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Leonardo Mayer, Sock and Tomas Berdych (the latter 6-0 6-0). He lost narrowly to David Ferrer in 2015 (no disgrace then) and Murray last year.
Given his form, I think he can go close and will back him each way to small stakes.
It’s worth noting that with Nadal a short-priced favourite, some firms are only betting to a third of the odds in their each-way terms this week. You have been warned.
Posted at 1935BST on 14/05/17