After five first-round matches yesterday while Madrid concluded, the Rome Masters gets started in the main today. Our tennis columnist, Dan Weston, is back to preview the event...
"Nadal has performed well here in the past, with seven titles between 2005 and 2013, but he's not won a title here since, while the runner-up tends to also be an elite-level player. Very rarely has a non-elite player make it to the final in recent history."
Madrid defeat sees Nadal drift in Rome outright market
Last week's events in Rome have had a profound impact on the outright market in Rome, with Rafa Nadal's surprise defeat to Dominic Thiem easing his outright price. At the time of writing, the King of Clay is 1.594/7, a relatively sizeable drift from last week's starting price, which was around the 1.402/5 mark.
Unsurprisingly, the player whose chances have improved is the Madrid champion Alexander Zverev, but questions will surface around whether the German youngster can back up two consecutive tournament victories, having won in Munich the week before. He's moved in to 7.613/2, which from a pure data perspective, looks relatively justified - his 12 month stats are now clearly the second best on tour - but surely fatigue is a valid consideration as to whether he will be capable of a strong defence of the title he picked up here last season.
Historical results show elite-level players make the final in Rome
Nadal has performed well here in the past, with seven titles between 2005 and 2013, but he's not won a title here since, while the runner-up tends to also be an elite-level player. Very rarely has a non-elite player make it to the final in recent history.
Historical venue conditions have been medium-fast with 78.9% of service games being held in the last three years, a figure which is 1.7% above the ATP clay mean during that time period. In addition, 0.44 aces per game were served here in Italy, up from the clay average of 0.38.
Despite these likely medium-fast conditions, they aren't expected to be nearly as quick as last week in Madrid, which is the quickest clay venue on tour, and this event is certainly likely to be less serve-orientated. With these conditions - and those in Madrid - rather different to the likely conditions players will face at Roland Garros in a fortnight, it will be difficult to give a huge amount of weight to performances in these warm-up events.
Djokovic short-priced to come through competitive second quarter
Although Zverev is evidently improving, and demonstrated a world-class level last week, it is still Nadal who is the one to beat, both from a statistical and market price basis.
As top seed, Nadal's main threats in the top quarter of the draw are Tomas Berdych and the unfortunate Thiem, who is drawn in Nadal's segment for the second consecutive week.
Novak Djokovic looks favourite to take a competitive quarter two, with John Isner and Grigor Dimitrov the seeded threats, although the likes of Kei Nishikori and Phillip Kohlschreiber will also fancy their chances.
While Djokovic should be favourite, odds of 6/4 to win the quarter are skinny. Perhaps the value lies with Nishikori at 6/1, given that his match with Djokovic last week was extremely competitive, and he does have a very high potential level on clay as well.
Cilic form in question for quarter three
Quarter three looks weaker. Marin Cilic, Kevin Anderson, Steve Johnson, Richard Gasquet, Pablo Carreno-Busta and Diego Schwartzman look the main contenders but none of these feature at the forefront of the outright market. Cilic has the best clay data but isn't in great form, and all of these players are very fallible at this level.
Fatigue the big question mark over Zverev
The final quarter is all about whether Zverev is shattered following two tournament victories. Logic suggests that he should be, and if this is the case, players such as Juan Martin Del Potro, Kyle Edmund, David Goffin and Borna Coric may come through to the latter stages.
All told, I anticipate a fascinating week in Rome. While conditions won't be that similar to Roland Garros in a fortnight, this is the last realistic opportunity for players to get some vital court time in advance of the French Open, and on this basis, player motivation should be extremely high.
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