Conditions prevalent in yesterday's mini-start
Remember yesterday's outright preview? In that, I spoke about the benefits that big-servers and players who prefer quicker conditions should derive in Madrid, and in yesterday's mini-start (there were just three matches - why do tournaments do that?!), arguably the biggest server of all, John Isner, picked up a solid win over Filip Krajinovic.
Adding to that, Dan Evans, who fits into the second bracket of player and is not really a lover of clay himself, defeated the Argentine clay-courter Federico Delbonis. Add to that the shock win for the young Brit, Jack Draper, over Lorenzo Sonego, and we should be able to illustrate that this is a tournament where slow clay form goes out of the window.
Murray clash with Thiem posing plenty of questions
Action today starts at 11:00 UK time with 14 matches on the card, and there's some really interesting matches in prospect.
The neutrals eyes will no doubt be set on the night match, which features former winner here Andy Murray against twice runner-up Dominic Thiem, although this isn't really one for the data-driven assessor of matches given Thiem's lack of recent activity and losses against mediocre opposition on his comeback.
It's really tricky to predict where the Austrian is at currently, or where he could be in a match or two, while Murray hasn't stepped on court in a competitive match since he lost to Daniil Medvedev in Miami towards the end of March and has therefore skipped all the clay tournaments to date this season. Thiem is a slight favourite at 1.654/6, but it's really guesswork as to whether that's any value.
De Minaur favourite over Martinez
Alex De Minaur hasn't had much clay pedigree throughout his career, but stepped up in Barcelona several weeks ago to reach the final, and narrowly lost to Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-final as a huge-priced underdog. This was a week after taking a set off Andrey Rublev in slow clay in Monte Carlo, so you can see why the market is optimistic about his chances in quicker conditions today - he's favourite at 1.574/7 over the home player, Pedro Martinez.
Martinez picked up a title on clay earlier this season in Santiago, with victory over Sebastian Baez, and that victory has been 'franked' by Baez winning in Estoril yesterday, but his record apart from that win in Chile has been mediocre this season. The conditions are likely to favour De Minaur much more today.
Davidovich an uneasy favourite over Harris
There's further Spanish interest as Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who has had a real rise up the rankings this season, faces Lloyd Harris. Monte Carlo finalist Fokina, who shocked tennis with that run, is the 1.351/3 favourite but I'm far from sold on that. He was ousted by Frances Tiafoe last week in Estoril, and hadn't done much this season before that random run in Monte Carlo.
In fact, it it wasn't for injury doubts over Harris - he quit a set down to De Minaur in Barcelona - I'd be considering options on the South African here. He's not bad on clay, evidenced by several underdog wins over traditional clay-courters in Barcelona, and should prefer conditions here as well compared to his opponent.
Shapovalov better on clay than opponent Humbert
However, my pick for today is Denis Shapovalov as a slight favourite at 1.674/6 over Ugo Humbert. Shapovalov hasn't played since Miami but clay numbers suggest that he's a far better player on the surface than the Frenchman, who lost in qualifying but picked up a lucky loser berth.
In fact, Humbert's clay numbers aren't impressive at all over the last year or two, and with Shapovalov also being the better server as well, the conditions should favour the Canadian as well. It's not a strong lean - round one picks rarely are - but I'm going with Shapovalov today as my recommendation.
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