With ten first-round matches today, the Madrid Masters really gets started following a low-profile opening day yesterday. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, checks out the matches on today's schedule...
"Djokovic is a [1.69] favourite to continue his dominant head to head lead over Nishikori, which looks about right. This is certainly a match to keep a close eye on with a view to assessing both players' chances as the clay season develops in the run-up to Roland Garros."
Lopez likely to be more of a threat in these quick conditions
As I mentioned in the outright preview, it is imperative that the quick conditions are considered for this week in Madrid, and there may be some opportunities that these conditions will give us, as the week progresses.
In addition, avoiding some spots with these conditions in mind is equally vital, and one match-up which makes this obvious is the all-Spanish clash between Pablo Andujar and Feliciano Lopez. It's the out and out clay-courter, Andujar, who is the [1.83] market favourite, and on slow clay, this would be a very attractive price against Lopez, whose level on clay has been mediocre in the last 12 months, and is in general decline.
However, Lopez adores quick conditions and astutely makes the effort to travel to altitude tournaments, so is evidently aware of his preferred conditions - unlike many players appear to be - and in these quicker conditions, Andujar looks one to swerve.
Dzumhur and Benneteau competing to be the 'least worst'
One where my model indicated value was Damir Dzumhur, at [1.62] against Julien Benneteau, but Dzumhur has been awful on clay this season, as opposed to Benneteau just being awful on it full-stop. Given the issues of Dzumhur, and that this is a first-round match - a stage where fitness and motivation are often the most questionable - I'm not really keen enough on the Bosnian here.
Likewise Mischa Zverev, who is in freefall this year. He does perform well on quick conditions and may have a decent shot as an underdog at [3.60] against another unimpressive player in Federico Delbonis, but it is so difficult to have any faith in the 'lesser Zverev' right now.
Carballes Baena showing a much better clay level than Kukushkin
Therefore, for today's recommendation, I am looking at a lower-profile home player, in the shape of Roberto Carballes Baena.
At 25 years of age, the wild-card, Carballes Baena, has had a breakthrough clay season, culminating in taking the title in Quito in February. Form otherwise has been a bit hit and miss, but he's evidently competent on clay, which is more than can be said for opponent Kukushkin.
This year on clay, Carballes Baena is 9-6 in main tour/main draw matches, and this is a record Kukushkin can only dream of, running at 5-15 in the last three years. In all clay matches, including the lower quality opponents in Challengers and qualifiers, Kukushkin is 9-12, with a below 100% combined hold/break percentage, so the [1.66] on Carballes Baena, in front of home support, looks worthy of consideration.
Djokovic a narrow favourite to continue historical Nishikori dominance
In other matches, Diego Schwartzman's level has been patchy of late, although Adrian Mannarino's performances on clay have historically been very mediocre, while the all-French clash between Lucas Pouille and Benoit Paire looks one to watch - I suspect the quick conditions will play into Pouille's hands.
However, the match of the day is undoubtedly Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori. Several years ago, it wouldn't have been a stretch to view this as a potential final, but both players are without first-round byes and received this brutal first-round draw.
Djokovic is a [1.69] favourite to continue his dominant head to head lead over Nishikori, which looks about right. This is certainly a match to keep a close eye on with a view to assessing both players' chances as the clay season develops in the run-up to Roland Garros.
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